Atlanta United FC president Darren Eales said that the fact two of the team's players tested positive for the coronavirus is a sign that the league's protocols are working and "that's exactly what we want."
Eales was speaking to reporters in the wake of the two positive tests, which were administered last Wednesday. A team spokesperson confirmed that the players in question had tested negative two days earlier.
MLS is scheduled to return to play outside Orlando at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World starting on July 8. (The Walt Disney Co. owns ESPN.)
The development is a reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is not going away anytime soon, especially given the fact that the players in question had previously tested negative. Eales said there is no set threshold of positive tests that would cause the team to pull out of the tournament, but he wasn't surprised that some Atlanta players had tested positive.
"I think with a couple of positive tests that we've had here, this is to be expected," he said. "You can't expect there not to be positives. So the key is going to be how the protocol works as we go forward."
Eales stressed that the team has no control over what players do away from the training facility, though he confirmed that each player is required to submit a log of where they've been "so that if we have these issues, we're able to follow up with them."
MLS now has a total of five players that have tested positive for COVID-19. The Philadelphia Union's Kacper Przybylko tested positive back in March and has since recovered. FC Dallas and Inter Miami have each also had a player test positive.
There has also been an increase in cases in the Orlando area. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Central Florida has a total of 13,013 cases as of Monday. The percentage of positive tests increased to 12.02% for the week ending June 14 after the previous week's mark was 5.06%.
Eales said these developments are not making him rethink the wisdom of holding the tournament.
"I think that on balance for me, MLS is doing the right thing by trying to come back," he said. "I think it is the right thing to be doing it in a contained environment. I think we've probably seen that over the last couple of weeks, what's happening around the country, this could be the safest way to getting back to playing before you then go back to your local market. So I'm excited about the concept. I think it's going to be fun having it in a World Cup environment when for 16 consecutive days you've got a number of games getting played. But again, the important thing is that we have the safety and that we're all following the protocols."
There has also been concern that hotel employees will not be contained inside the MLS "bubble" -- given that they will be able to return home at the end of their shifts. Eales said he is confident about the preventive measures that have been put in place.
"In terms of those Disney employees, they're all going to be socially distancing, wearing [personal protective equipment]," he said. "It is going to be in a scenario where the medical experts are comfortable that that is sufficient because they're not actually in contact [with the players]."
Eales added that no players have approached him about backing out of the tournament.
"With our players, they're coming in, they're professional, they understand that this is part of the procedure," he said. "And I think, to be honest, this is sort of reassuring, because it shows that the testing is working, and it's limiting any potential exposure."