Major League Soccer has announced their plan to restart the 2020 season with the MLS is Back Tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. All 26 MLS clubs will be competing in the tournament that begins July 8.
The tournament will emulate the World Cup with group stage games, which count towards the regular season standings, followed by knockout stages (which do not count towards the regular season). The tournament winner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.
“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber via press release. “The opportunity to have all 26 clubs in a controlled environment enables us to help protect the health of our players, coaches and staff as we return to play. We also recognize that the death of George Floyd and others has focused our country on issues of racial injustice, inequality and violence against black men and women. Together with our owners, players and staff, the League and its Clubs are deeply committed to creating meaningful and impactful programs to address these issues that have plagued our society for far too long.”
Major League Soccer and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex have partnered previously. MLS preseason in 1998 was at the complex, and they hosted events for the 1998 and 2019 MLS All-Star Games at the facilities.
Clubs will begin arriving in Orlando as early as June 24 for preseason training but teams that can conduct full team training in their own markets, pursuant to the league’s medical and testing protocols, will continue to do so. Sporting Kansas City began full team training on Monday. Teams must arrive no later than seven days before their first match.
The tournament will be similar to a FIFA World Cup in format with a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day. Games will be played at 8 a.m., 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. CDT with most of the matches in the evening.
“Each team will play three group stage matches, and those results will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings. After 16 consecutive days of group stage matches, the top two teams from each group along with the four best third-place finishers will move on to the knockout stage. The knockout stage will include a Round-of-16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and the Championship match will take place on August 11. Matches tied at the end of regulation in the knock-out phase will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout. “
MLS, in conjunction with U.S. Soccer, Canada Soccer and Concacaf have instituted a one-time change to MLS berths to the annual Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League. “The MLS is Back Tournament winner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, regardless of whether it is a U.S. or Canadian club. The winner would replace the berth previously awarded to the MLS regular season points leader in the conference opposite of the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winner.”
“In addition to matches that count in the regular season standings and the Champions League berth, players will have the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.”
The tournament will follow the new substitution protocol set by the IFAB and allow five substitutions per match (though no more than three instances of subs can be made per team, outside of halftime). Teams may also name up to 23 players on each official match day roster. VAR will be used.
The 26 MLS teams will be drawn into one of six groups during a live draw that will take place Thursday, June 11 at 2:30 p.m. CDT. Nashville SC will be moved to the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the 2020 season. The Eastern Conference will have three groups, one consisting of six teams and two consisting of four teams each. The Western Conference will have three groups, each consisting of four teams.
“As the host club, Orlando City SC will be given the top seed in Group A, which will be the six-team group, and will play in the first match on July 8. The five remaining seeds will consist of the four semifinalists from the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs – Atlanta United, Los Angeles Football Club, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC – and Real Salt Lake (the team with the next highest points total in the Western Conference from the 2019 season). The seeded teams will be drawn into their respective groups first and then the remaining 20 clubs will be drawn and distributed across the conference-based groups.”
MLS plans the telecasts will “feature unique and experimental technologies, including virtual commercial displays, new camera positions, advanced audio and fan integration elements. The tournament will also showcase unprecedented access to players and coaches.”
“MLS is also evaluating a number of technologies that will provide fans the opportunity to express their support and creativity, including interactive elements.”
Upon completion of the MLS is Back Tournament, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and the 25th MLS Cup. The final number of matches and the schedule for the remainder of the 2020 MLS regular season will be announced in the coming weeks.
Specific broadcast locations were not revealed, just that “all 54 tournament matches will be played in standalone windows and televised across MLS partner networks. None of the matches will overlap.”
June 24: Teams begin arriving in Florida
July 8: MLS is Back Tournament group stage begins
July 25-28: Round-of-16
July 30- Aug. 1: Quarterfinals
August 5-6: Semifinals
August 11: MLS is Back Tournament Final
MLS IS BACK TOURNAMENT – July 8 – August 11
Number of Matches: 54 (39 group; 15 knockout)
No. of matchdays: 26
Format: Group Stage, followed by Round-of-16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals & Championship match
Minimum Matches: 3 (per club)
Maximum Matches: 7 (per club)