However, all that anticipation has now turned to disappointment and with a COVID-19 outbreak recently swirling through the Tampa Bay Rowdies camp, they were in no position to compete in the final fixture of the USL season.
Which means, with only one entrant being ready to take to the field, the USL were left with a choice. They could either decide to hand the 2020 crown to Phoenix Rising FC uncontested or curtail the season completely.
While it is the latter that the powers subsequently opted for and this means that as thing stand, there is no team ready to take over the mantle of champions, as the 2019 winners Real Monarchs failed to even make the play-off stage.
Therefore, there’s a sense of double disappointment for the Phoenix based outfit, as they will feel that they have been punished by bad fortune elsewhere and although there may be a modicum of truth in that, the health of everyone connected to the league is paramount at present.
Which means, the show does not climax to a big finish and these two entities will have to make do with the slightly lesser title of being champions of their separate conferences – Tampa Bay Rowdies being the Eastern and Phoenix Rising the Western.
Then again, all is not lost for now, as there could be scope for this fixture to be played as a curtain raiser to 2021 instead and in doing so, a champion would eventually be crowned. Although this idea is still yet to be rubberstamped and there is every chance 2020 could stay without a winner.
Ultimately the decision would have made by USL President Jake Edwards and after the announcement, he had this to say on the matter:
“First and foremost, we want to applaud these two teams on an incredible season. They deserved the opportunity to play for the USL Championship Final trophy and we are disappointed that we won’t be able to watch them on Sunday night”
Words that only highlight the frustration that everyone within the USL community is feeling right now and there is a sense that every ball that has been kicked, is perhaps all for nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Then again, to even get to such a stage of the season with the apparent health risks that are still prevalent today, must be celebrated as form of success and for this everyone who has worn USL colours must be commended for their efforts.
When you consider that the USL already had to deal with a three-month hiatus earlier in the season, they would have no left no stone unturned in terms of a return and the fact that the Tampa Bay Rowdies uncovered positive COVID-19 results, is testament to the testing protocols that are in place.
In times such as these, it is better to be safe than sorry and if the championship game were to go ahead, you would have to ask yourself at what price. Which means, although 2020 has no champion (for now) at least the USL can look ahead to 2021 and another season of competitive league action.
Written by Dan Tracey