Coronavirus pandemic challenges soccer leagues at global level

ASC San Diego has had its 2020 NPSL season cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. File photo by Phillip Brents

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has upended every aspect of life currently around the world.

That includes the sports world and, specifically, global soccer.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced on Tuesday (April 28) that his country has cancelled all sporting competitions and events through the end of August in a bid to avoid risking a second wave of COVID-19.

France has been one of the European countries hardest hit by the pandemic.

Philippe’s announcement comes in the wake of Dutch Football Association’s announcement the previous week to abandon its season without a winner.

With the inability to play, even in empty stadiums, the directive effectively cancels France’s Ligue 1 professional season, which had been on hold since March.

Professional soccer leagues in Spain, Italy, Germany and England will now look at France’s decision as a cautionary move as those countries face the challenge of when to restart their seasons.

The fear in France was that a return to the playing field too early might provoke a resurgence of COVID-19.

It’s a fear shared around the world.

The National Independent Soccer Association, National Premier Soccer League, Major League Soccer, United Soccer League and the National Women’s Soccer League all suspended game play and put a moratorium on training in March after the World Health Organization proclaimed the coronavirus spread a global pandemic.

The NPSL became the first casualty after cancelling its season on March 28. The NPSL, which is affiliated with the United States Adult Soccer Association and is widely viewed as an unofficial fourth tier in U.S. Soccer’s pyramid, includes 94 teams across 14 conferences in the United States.

The semi-professional league offers a haven for collegiate players to continue to train and play over the summer.

Albion Soccer Club (ASC) San Diego represents the NPSL locally and has maintained an ongoing presence with homegrown talent, including that from South County high schools.

Castle Park High School alumnus Felipe Liborio has played for both ASC San Diego in the NPSL and San Diego 1904 FC in the NISA. Photos courtesy SD 1904 FC

The NISA’s spring season has become the second casualty after league commissioner John Prutch announced on Monday (April 27) that due to the league’s timetable that the league was forced to cancel the remainder of its 2020 spring season.

The spring season kicked off in February with most teams, including San Diego 1904 FC locally, having played two matches.

Regular season play was to continue through June 20.

The NISA, which occupies the Division III level in the U.S. Soccer pyramid, cancelled its spring season due to the unfeasibility of making up lost games in advance of its fall season, which is scheduled to start in August.

The league hopes to hold a regional summer tournament, the NISA Independent Cup, sometime this summer, possibly from mid-July to mid-August, if health measures permit.

The event, which would be held behind closed doors at central locations to limit travel expenses, would include a collection of NISA teams and a select number of high-level amateur sides.

“The world has changed, and with it, so must we,” Prutch said in a release on the league’s website ( “Whether you’re an athlete or a business, you can adapt to unique challenges. At NISA, these shifts are being made in fundamental business strategies using creative, adaptive, and strategic solutions to resume play when it is safe and reasonable to do so with continued advisory from top medical experts.

“The path to achieving these goals is fluid as we adapt to an ever-evolving landscape, and we will proceed with care and ensure all of the appropriate steps are in place as we move forward.”

Chula Vista FC and the Rebels Soccer Club engaged in a U.S. Open Cup qualifying match during the fall, with Chula Vista FC advancing on a penalty kick tiebreaker in the dark. The UPSL’s spring season remains on hold as does the U.S. Open Cup. Photo by Phillip Brents

Administrative officers of NISA clubs have stated it will be safe to return to the playing field when the timing is right.

Concerns are myriad, chief among them the issue of having reliable testing in place.

Other concerns when discussing a return to play include the obvious risk of injuries, how quickly players can get back into playing condition and what the effect playing compressed schedules will have on players.

“It’s the best decision for the league with all the uncertainty,” San Diego 1904 FC head coach Alex Gontran said in a Twitter post.

Despite cancelling its spring season, the NISA has announced plans for its 2020 fall season that will include 10 teams and extend through November.

The league has plans to play its fall season in one of three scenarios: closed door without fans, open door with limited fans and open door.

Scenarios will be dictated by the NISA’s recently assembled COVID-19 Task Force as well as health mandates from state and local governments.

The 2021 spring season is scheduled to start next February.

Prutch said the league is poised to return stronger than ever.

“We’re excited with the addition of new and historic clubs to the schedule and we’re working hard to win games and make San Diego proud this fall,” Gontran said.

Midfielder Christian Enriquez, the winner of the 2019 NPSL Gold Ball award with seven goals and six assists in 19 games for ASC San Diego last summer, is among the local players rostered on San Diego 1904.

Enriquez, who prepped at Helix High School and played for the Nomads Soccer Club, received an invitation to the United States U-19 men’s national team training camp in Valencia, Spain during the summer of 2016.

Carlos Alvarez moves the ball through midfield during the team’s USL Championship opener against the visiting Las Vegas Lights. Photo by Phillip Brents

The San Diego Loyal SC had played two regular season matches, including its sold-out home opener at the University of San Diego’s 6,100-seat Torero Stadium on March 7, before the USL suspended play indefinitely.

The Loyal’s season remains on hold, though tentative plans call for a resumption of play this summer with the league championship possibly taking place in December.

The Loyal has postponed its Chula Vista Appreciation Night, originally scheduled March 14, to July 29.

The USL Championship, of which the Loyal is a member, has extended its previously announced 30-day temporary suspension of play to align with the Center for Disease Control guidelines on restricting public gatherings of 50 or more through May 10.

“We fully support the USL’s decision to suspend play for the safety of our players, staff and community,” SD Loyal President Warren Smith said in a team release dated March 20. “In keeping with that decision, the club is suspending all SD Loyal match play, including friendlies, for the next 30 days. We are committed to doing everything possible to reschedule these matches so that San Diego can see their club play. We appreciate the support and understanding of our fans during this time.”

San Diego Loyal defender Grant Stoneman plays the ball out of danger during the team’s season opener against Las Vegas. Photo by Phillip Brents

Among the matches affected was a highly anticipated friendly against Xolos de Tijuana on March 28. The SD Loyal hopes to reschedule this and other matches for later in the season.

Patrick Henry alumnus Sal Zizzo, who played with five MLS teams from 2010 through 2019 and represented the United States at the 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup, was among the Loyal’s most recognizable faces outside of head coach Landon Donovan.

Otay Ranch High School alumnus Austin Guerrero was included on the Loyal’s preseason roster as a backup goalkeeper.

Guerrero, who helped the Surf club team win the 2018 Region IV championship, continued his post-high school career at the University of Portland where he was a three-time all-West Coast Conference selection.

Bonita Vista High School alumnus Ramon Martin del Campo is signed to compete this season for the Las Vegas Lights in the USL Championship.

Chula Vistans’ Alejandro Mariscal, Eduardo Mariscal and Felisha Mariscal helped comprise the officiating crew for the Loyal’s Feb. 22 preseason exhibition match against Costa Del Este from Panama at Torero Stadium.

The United Premier Soccer League, which includes the Rebels Soccer Club among its members, hopes to be able to start its season in the coming weeks, possibly with a mid-May to early June start.

“We have been monitoring closely the developments at a national and regional level while remaining optimistic that soccer will be played again soon,” a league statement read. “While we cannot predict the exact timing, we can be ready with a schedule if and when the time comes. For now we intend to stay flexible and keep an open mind.

“Our plans include creating a safety protocol that will be in place for all games. These are intended to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“It is becoming very clear that some parts of the country will be opening up sooner than others. This means that the number of available weeks to complete a regular season may vary from conference to conference. This should not cause any problems so long as a sufficient number of games are played.”

In any restart scenario, the regular season would end the first week in August, followed by regional playoffs. The national finals would be played Labor Day Weekend (Sept. 5-7).

The Rebels got off to a slow start during their inaugural winter season but finished strong with a 5-5-2 record to finish fourth in the SoCal South-Division I table and qualify for the playoffs.

The Rebels lost, 2-1, in overtime to the top-seeded San Diego Tigers White FC (11-0-1 in regular season play) in the teams’ opening playoff round.

“We started slow but the team ended up finishing strong with some new players and some consistency,” Rebels UPSL general manager Jesus Acevedo said. “We’ll be looking for more signings in preparation for the spring season, adding some new players.”

The Rebels UPSL adult men’s team plays its league games at Southwestern College.

The Rebels engaged local amateur side Chula Vista FC in a first-round 2020 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup qualifying match in late September, with Chula Vista FC advancing on a penalty kick tie-breaker in the dark.

Chula Vista FC defeated its next opponent. Academia SC, in another penalty kick tie-breakre rin October to advance to the third round of qualifying play.

Chula Vista FC added a third consecutive PK tie-breaker victory in November over the LA Monsters, to earn an official bid into the main tournament.

Chula Vista FC becomes the first club soccer team to qualify for the main elimination tournament since 2016.

However, the conroavirus pandemic has since suspended play in soccer’s oldest domestic tournament.

The first three rounds of the 2020 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup were scheduled for March 24-25, April 7-9 and April 21-23.

Chula Vista FC continued its good fortunes in U.S. Open Cup play with a dramatic PK tiebreaker win over local rival Rebels Soccer Club. Photos by Phillip Brents

Corner kicks
The NISA had added two clubs to its upcoming fall season: the New York Cosmos and the New Amsterdam FC.

The Cosmos had been members of the National Premier Soccer League, defeating the Albion Soccer Club (ASC) San Diego in last summer’s championship semifinal playoffs.

San Diego 1904 FC kicked off its 2020 spring season with a 2-2 tie at Stumptown Athletic in Pineville, N.C., on Feb. 29 and followed with a 0-0 against the Cal United Strikers FC at Lincoln High School on March 8.

Joseph Patrick Perez and Ozzie Ramos scored goals for 1904 FC in its season opener. Jean Antoine recorded the shutout in the team’s home opener.

The San Diego team had played its West Coast Fall Showcase series at cavernous SDCCU Stadium in Mission Valley while holding weekly training sessions at Southwestern College.

Castle Park High School alumnus Felipe Liborio was a member of the NISA team’s inaugural side after playing for ASC San Diego last summer.

He recorded one shot for 1904 in the March 8 scoreless draw against the Strikers.

The Strikers won last year’s West Coast Fall Showcase with a 5-3 penalty kick tiebreaker win over the L.A. Force.

The NISA currently counts 10 active members: San Diego 1904, Strikers, Force and Oakland Roots on the West Coast and the Cosmos, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC Michigan Stars FC, Stumptown Athletic and New Amsterdam FC in the eastern half of the country.

Eight teams had kicked off play during the spring season, with the Roots and Strikers possessing one win and one tie to sit atop the single eight-team table.

Former Bonita Vista High School standout Luis Cardona was rostered on this spring’s ASC San Diego squad.

ASC San Diego had kicked off its season with 1-2 record while continuing to compete in the NPSL.

Major League Soccer’s season remains suspended until at least May 10.

However, the league released updated information on May 1 that could signal a return to playin the coming weeks by allowing players to use outdoor team training fields for individual workouts starting May 6. However, this would be in compliance with detailed health and safety protocols that were created in consultation with medical and infectious disease experts.

All individual workouts would voluntary and may not be in conflict with local public health official or government policies.

MLS said that by allowing players, on a voluntary basis, to utilize team-operated fields for individual workouts, MLS clubs will be able to provide a controlled environment that ensures adherence to safety protocols and social distancing measures for players and staff.

Hilltop High School alumnus Adrian Zendejas (2014) is currently rostered on the Nashville FC expansion team. The goalkeeper, now 24, made five regular season appearances for the Swope Park Rangers in the USL in 2016, recording three shutouts and a 0.40 goals-against average.