This morning Major League Soccer announced it’s return to play with all 26 teams set to compete in the MLS is Back Tournament at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex beginning on July 8. The tournament will be played without fans in attendance and the winner will earn a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
The following information is from Major League Soccer’s press release and includes details on the format of the tournament:
Clubs will begin arriving in Orlando as early as June 24 for preseason training. Clubs that can conduct full team training in their markets pursuant to the league’s medical and testing protocols must arrive no later than seven days before their first match.
Similar to a FIFA World Cup format, the tournament will feature a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day, with games beginning at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. EDT. The vast majority of the matches will be played 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 worked with U.S. Soccer, Canada Soccer and CONCACAF to institute 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 substitution limit for the tournament will follow the new protocol set by the IFAB and allow five substitutions per match. In addition, teams may name up to 23 players on each official match day roster. Also, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) will have access to video review for all games.
For the MLS is Back Tournament, the 26 MLS teams will be drawn into one of six groups during a live draw that will take place tomorrow, Thursday, June 11 at 2:30 p.m. CDT. For the remainder of the 2020 MLS season, Nashville SC will be moved to the Eastern Conference. 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.
In addition, the tournament schedule, national television partner networks, and other important details for the MLS is Back Tournament will be provided soon.
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 schedule will be developed at a later date. The final number of matches and the schedule for the remainder of the 2020 MLS regular season will be announced in the coming weeks.
The MLS medical department and the league’s infectious disease experts have developed a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan which will be implemented for the entire MLS is Back Tournament. In addition, MLS will make a contribution of serology (antibody) tests to Central Florida residents beginning June 18.
A tournament in Florida, in the summer, seems to bode well for the Dynamo. Few teams will be prepared for the heat and humidity of July in the sunshine as the Dynamo will be. We will see if this can work to their advantage. We will bring you much more coverage of the tournament and games as we get closer to the restart.