TORONTO — Like their Canadian counterparts in Major League Soccer, the Toronto Arrows are wondering where they will be able to play this year.
The when is also up in the air for the Major League Rugby team, in the wake of the decision by the expansion Dallas Jackals to delay their debut until 2022. That has required a revised schedule, yet to be released.
The Arrows say they are ready for whatever comes their way in terms of guidance from local government and health authorities.
“We do have a fully formed Plan B,” said Mark Winokur, the Arrows’ chief operating officer and GM. “We’ve been working with the league and partner teams. And we have a solid Plan B that kind of piggybacks on another MLR city.
“But our first priority is to play in Canada. So we’re going to give it as much time as we need to see if that can happen. And if it can’t, then we’ll revert to a U.S. spot for as long as we need to be there. And as soon as we can come back to Canada, we’ll come back to Canada.”
Moving south of the border will not be cheap.
“There’s no way around that,” said Winokur. “It’s going to cost us more money to do that than stay here. But we’re working on every possible way to mitigate it. We’re committed to playing and we’re going to make it work.”
On Monday, the San Diego Legion announced it will play its 2021 home games in Las Vegas due to the level of COVID-19 in California. The league plans a dispersal draft “for potential redistribution” of Jackals players for the 2021 season.
Dallas put the brakes on its entry into the pro rugby league last week.
“The pandemic has obviously had a far-reaching impact on many businesses,” Jackals president Scott Sonju said in a statement. “For an expansion sports team it presents very specific challenges, from properly cultivating community and business relationships, to securing visas for international players — there are many challenges in a normal climate, let alone in the unusual climate of this past year.
“We know this organization is going to be highly successful. We know DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) is an important market for the league. But we also know that you only get one chance to make a first impression.”
The league’s 2020 season shut down in March with each of the 12 teams having played five games. The Colorado Raptors announced soon after they were withdrawing from the league.
MLR, with 12 teams including the expansion Los Angeles Giltinis, was slated to kick off its fourth season on March 20. Toronto was due to open March 28 in San Diego.
Winokur expects the new schedule to start about the same time.
Toronto played its first eight games on the road in its inaugural 2019 campaign to avoid winter before opening at home April 7. In 2020, the Arrows were set to play their first seven games on the road, only to see the league shut down after five.
This season starts later — kickoff was Feb. 8 last year — with the league looking for more time for COVID-19 to subside.
Toronto has split games between York University and Lamport Stadium in the past.
The league is an important training ground for Rugby Canada, with some 50 players scattered around the league last season.
Many were at the Arrows, who expect to open training camp in early February. Winokur said the club’s seven foreign players abroad will serve quarantine before starting pre-season. Two other imports are already here.
The other 27 payers are Canadian.
The team will work within a bubble with testing protocols laid down by the league. Winokur has experience with such, having been part of Rugby Canada’s high-performance camp in November in Langford, B.C.
“The fun quotient is pretty low but it can be safely done,” he said.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press