In what is believed to be the first player trade in North American sports related to a player’s decision not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, MLS club CF Montreal traded American forward Erik Hurtado to the Columbus Crew.
The U.S.-Canada border is closed to non-essential travel, which complicated Hurtado’s situation. The Canadian government’s travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic require that Canadian nationals, permanent residents and foreign nationals permitted to enter the country must spend 14 days in quarantine upon entering the country if they are not vaccinated. Beginning July 5, vaccinated travelers who qualified to enter the country were able to do so without quarantine restrictions.
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Given that he is not vaccinated, Hurtado would have been forced to quarantine for 14 days every time he returned to Canada following matches played in the U.S. CF Montreal sporting director Olivier Renard outlined the state of affairs in the club’s press release announcing the trade.
“There was some interest in Erik during the past few weeks and we listened to the offers, even though we were satisfied with Erik’s work. Because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19, his situation was problematic and we started considering a trade when we got the confirmation that the team could return to Montreal,” Renard said.
“Before proceeding, Erik also confirmed that he was not comfortable taking the vaccine, so we concluded this deal, which we felt was very satisfactory. We would like to thank Erik for his professionalism and wish him good luck in his career,” Renard added.
CF Montreal is not the only team to acknowledge that there could be challenges managing players who are not vaccinated. Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis mentioned “potential complications for non-fully vaccinated players but we’ll have to see how things unfold.” Toronto midfielder Nick DeLeon made public his intention not to get vaccinated in March.
Latest on U.S.-Canada border situation
Cross-border travel restrictions have created challenges for Canadian sports teams playing in North American leagues, with NBA, MLB and MLS clubs having to move to the U.S. to set up training bases during their respective seasons.
The NHL circumvented the restrictions by creating a division made up solely of its Canadian clubs for the 2021 regular season. It received a special travel exemption from the Canadian government in June for teams traveling across the Canadian border for the playoffs. Playoff teams were not required to fulfill the 14-day quarantine requirement, provided they adhered to strict guidelines of a modified bubble and did not make contact with the general public.
MLS officials are in talks with the Canadian government regarding an arrangement for its teams in order that matches can be hosted at Canadian stadiums.
The most recent update to Canada’s travel restrictions with respect to vaccinated travelers led to two of three Canadian MLS teams, CF Montreal and Toronto FC, moving their training bases back to Canada after starting the MLS season in the U.S. Vancouver is staying in its U.S. base in Utah for now as all three teams await more developments on cross-border travel.
Why the Hurtado trade makes sense
The Hurtado transaction was a practical solution across the board: Columbus needs cover at forward, Montreal comes away with a decent cash haul, and the 30-year-old Hurtado doesn’t have to deal with the travel restrictions for the rest of the regular season.
Hurtado’s addition will help the Crew, who will be without starting forward Gyasi Zardes (USA), winger Derrick Etienne Jr. (Haiti) and attacking midfielder Kevin Molino (Trinidad and Tobago) while they participate in the Gold Cup. Backup forward Bradley Wright-Phillips is dealing with a right hip injury.
Columbus is not scheduled to play another Canadian team in the regular season, so Hurtado won’t have to make any cross-border travel.
Montreal came away with $200,000 in general allocation money, cash that MLS clubs use to manage player salaries within roster limits. It’s considered a sizable sum as far as general allocation money goes, even more so when considering Hurtado is a backup forward.
Hurtado is a nine-year MLS veteran who can play anywhere across the attacking front line. Montreal signed him as a free agent in February and he played seven matches for the club (two starts). He recorded one assist. He is expected to be available for his new club in the Hell is Real rivalry match against fellow Ohio club FC Cincinnati on Friday.
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