'This is real life': Michigan team owners back NPSL decision to shutter 2020 season amid coronavirus outbreak
A brand new shipment of official National Premier Soccer League Select match balls arrived this week and Carpathia FC members were already ogling their three sets of Adidas uniforms they were eagerly awaiting to wear in their league debut season.
All that eye candy took a backseat when the NPSL announced Thursday the 2020 season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Carpathia, which plays home matches at Avondale High School, is one of three Michigan teams in the fourth-tier semi-pro circuit along with Kalamazoo and Muskegon whose seasons are suddenly kaput.
The life-and-death situation shrouding every aspect of life outweighs any disappointment of a lost season, said those team owners in backing the league’s decision.
“I’m coming to work on empty roads,” said Carpathia president and owner Bruce Wilden, who owns Greene Metal Products in Clinton Township. “We've lost about 25 to 30% of our people — not from the virus — they just didn't feel comfortable coming to work.
“So this is real life and soccer is, you know, it's a great release. On a scale of one to 10, this is like a 12 right now, but I'm disappointed.”
Kalamazoo FC owner David Shufelt understood why the NPSL canceled the season. He assumed ownership last season of the club, which averaged 800-1,300 spectators at Mayor's Riverfront Stadium.
The window for college-eligible players is May until the end of July. Also, many overseas players, who have since returned home, would have required NPSL teams to put up airfare for them to come back, straining many budgets, Shufelt said.
“I think from a community standpoint, keeping the community safe is probably the number one thing that most club owners in the NPSL are looking to do,” said Shufelt, who owns RSA of Kalamazoo, a property management company.
“So the decision had to be made, and had to be made early, so that these players coming in would have some direction. As a club owner, I can tell you I would be nervous, bringing in 25 kids to play for me and putting them in proximity to each other in an athletic environment when you know potentially one could contaminate all 25.”
Carpathia and Muskegon were making their NPSL debuts this season after playing in the fifth-tier United Premier Soccer League.
COVID-19 also curtailed Muskegon’s indoor season as an exhibition against the Oakland County FC was called off Saturday at LC Walker Arena. The Risers compete in Major Arena Soccer League II during the winter.
“We actually have come to terms with the implications of what's happening probably a little bit sooner than most other clubs,” Risers president Matt Schmitt said. “So we fully support the league's decision, especially at a national level. It's extremely hard to predict where this is going.”
The 94-team NPSL is the first U.S. soccer league to cancel its season amid the coronavirus outbreak.
All other pro and semi-professional circuits have gone on hiatus or delayed the start of their seasons.
The shutdown comes after U.S. Adult Soccer Association extended its ban on all soccer-related activities until April 30 while the CDC last week recommended there be no group activity for eight weeks.
"This action was not taken lightly," said NPSL board chairman Ken Farrell in a written statement. "Over the past few weeks, the league has spoken to many of its teams and affiliate organizations. Every situation is different and has its own set of circumstances.
"The NPSL is balancing the immediate needs of its teams, and ensuring that there is a successful, thriving league for years to come."