After five dormant months, FC Dallas and Nashville SC finally resume their interrupted seasons when they meet on Wednesday night in Frisco, Texas.
The match will be the first of two played over five days in North Texas as they become the final teams to resume action after COVID-19 halted the season in March.
Dallas (1-0-1, four points) and Nashville (0-2-0, no points) were supposed to make their return in July with the league's other 24 teams at the MLS is Back Tournament near Orlando. Instead, both developed clusters of coronavirus cases that forced them to withdraw from the event, in which three scheduled group games counted toward regular season standings.
What followed was a multiple-week period of isolation at their hotel, without regular training sessions, before those players who were either not infected or recovered were permitted to return home.
From there, training restarted, and finally Saturday the league announced the rest of its schedule. All other MLS teams will play 18 additional regular-season games, but Dallas and Nashville will play 21 more, beginning with the two in Texas and also another rematch in Nashville later this season.
"Now that we're both in a better place and that we can compete, whether we have full fitness or full rhythm, perfect tactics, footage from six months ago, that's all secondary," Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez said. "Right now it's a celebration of being able to play a regular-season game with players that have really suffered a lot last month."
As trying as the wait has been for Dallas, it might be even worse for expansion Nashville, a team seeking its first-ever MLS points.
Nashville dropped its opener at home to Atlanta United and then fell away against the Portland Timbers before the season paused. When the opening whistle sounds Wednesday, it may bring an enormous sense of relief for those such as defender Walker Zimmerman, who may have felt as though the moment might never arrive.
"I think we've joked about it, well, nothing's official until the first whistle blows," Zimmerman said. "But I think at the same time, mentality-wise, we're ready, we're ready to compete. You can't be kind of hesitating on, 'I wonder if this is going to happen.' You have to fully mentally, and then if all else fails, no problem. But as long as you're prepared."
--Field Level Media