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Canadian MLS teams given green light to finish out season using home stadiums

Canada has approved a “National Interest Exemption” for MLS teams crossing the border
Vancouver Whitecaps FC play the Montreal Impact in an empty B.C. Place due to COVID-19 protocols during the second half of MLS soccer action in Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, September, 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Major League Soccer confirmed Thursday that the three Canadian teams can continue playing at home through the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.

All three are back home already with Toronto FC and CF Montreal having already staged matches in their stadiums before a limited number of spectators. The Vancouver Whitecaps are scheduled to play their first game at home on Aug. 21 due to scheduling issues with B.C. Place Stadium.

The league had previously only announced plans for the Canadian franchises to play at home through August in the wake of pandemic-related border restrictions being loosened for those fully vaccinated..

On Thursday, it extended that through the remainder of the season.

Helping matters is the fact that the Public Health Agency of Canada and immigration minister have approved a “National Interest Exemption” for MLS teams crossing the border.

That means while all travelling players and staff will still require COVID-19 tests prior to and upon arrival in Canada, regardless of vaccination status, those partially or not vaccinated will only have to observe a modified quarantine.

After posting a negative COVID-19 test, those individuals “may participate in work activities only, including trainings and games, and are otherwise prohibited from attending other functions or places through the remainder of a 14-day quarantine period, or until they leave the country.”

The league says 96 per cent of players and staff are fully vaccinated. Under the exemption, teams can now have all of their personnel cross the border.

The three Canadian teams finished out last season and started this year south of the border due to travel restrictions. Toronto and Montreal set up shop in Florida, in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, respectively. Vancouver shifted its base of operations to Sandy, Utah.

After Saturday’s match against Minnesota in Utah, the Whitecaps will play nine of their final 15 regular-season matches at B.C. Place.

“Vancouver is our home and we were thrilled to return to our training centre at the start of this week,” Whitecaps CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster said in a statement. “We now have four important road matches and everyone is excited to finally get a run of home games and play in front of our faithful supporters at B.C. Place.”

Attendance for the first three Vancouver home games will be limited to just over 13,000. Toronto’s attendance was capped at 15,000 last time. Montreal also faces a 15,000 limit.

Toronto hosts Nashville SC on Sunday at BMO Field. Montreal’s next game at Saputo Stadium in Aug. 4 against Atlanta United.

—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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