USL League Two has announced that the season has been canceled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s majorly disappointing, but it’s 100% out of our control,” said David Strickland, the Otters coach and part owner.
The Otters were about to begin their fifth season in the United Soccer League’s developmental circuit. Players were due in town this week to begin training, but they were told not to come before any of them had left.
“The momentum our clubs have built in League Two across the country in recent years has been tremendous, and today’s announcement — while disappointing — will do nothing to alter that,” USL League Two Vice President Joel Nash said. “We will continue to support soccer being played when and where possible in 2020 and use this time to get even stronger as a league and look forward to returning to competitive action better than ever before in 2021.”
Initially, the league was going to try to cram a three-month season into two months, but further uncertainty caused the cancelation. Most of the 90 teams around the country are made up of college players, so the schedule could not be moved back since those players are expected back at school — if there is school.
“Instead of the league being not 100% sure we could play or if we could even play in empty stadiums, they just said ‘We’re done,’ ” Strickland said. “An option was thrown out there that maybe we could play into the middle of August because maybe schools wouldn’t start. But, again, you can’t bank on it.”
Strickland said he felt bad for the players he had recruited from colleges. It’s a summer they’ll never get back.
“It hurts their opportunity to be seen professionally,” he said. “We had recruited one heck of a team. Hopefully we can retain a bunch of those players, but there’s a lot of time between now and next summer.”
This is a one-year hiatus for the league and the team.
“We will be back 100% in 2021 for sure,” Strickland said.
This summer was to be the Otters’ first playing at TVA Credit Union Ballpark, home of the Johnson City Cardinals. Now that stadium is full of uncertainty with the fate of the Appalachian League — for this season and beyond — unknown.
“When I called the Cardinals, they were also pretty disappointed in having us pack up ship,” Strickland said. “But they also understood. They’ve got their own dragons they’re slaying right now. Boyd Sports has been very open armed to receive us and have this relationship work out. I hope it comes through for next year.”