Major League Soccer is back, well not quite yet but soon-ish. MLS announced yesterday afternoon that the league will be holding the MLS Is Back Tournament from July 8th through August 11th. The tournament will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex outside of Orlando, FL. No fans will be in attendance during the tournament, which will last just over one month.
“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. “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.”
Teams will begin to arrive in the Orlando area as early as June 24th to begin “preseason” training before the tournament begins. The format has been compared to the FIFA World Cup as there will be games every day and the format will be split into 6 different groups. The group stage will see the teams drawn into five groups of four and one group of six (which you can see below). Each team will play three group stage matches, which will count for the 2020 MLS Regular Season Standings. During the group stage the matches will begin at 8AM, 7PM, and 9:30PM CDT, with “the vast majority of the matches will be played in the evening.” Following the 16 days of group stage matches a knockout stage will commence featuring the top two teams in each of the six groups plus the best 4 third place teams.
The knockout stage will be a bog-standard 16 team elimination tournament in a one-and-done format, similar to the FIFA World Cup and new MLS Cup Playoff format. If a match is tied after regulation in the knockout stage, rather than playing extra time, it will in similar fashion to early MLS league play, proceed directly to a shootout with the match being decided in penalty kicks. The MLS is Back Tournament Champion will also be awarded a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League, replacing the team who normally gets in by being the Conference Champion that did not win the MLS Supporters Shield. A unique aspect of that is that regardless of whether or not the team is one of the three Canadian sides the winner will qualify. Normally the three Canadian teams (Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver) must qualify through the Canadian Championship where the Voyageurs Cup winners are awarded the country’s only spot.
Following the MLS Is Back tournament the league looks to resume play in each teams home market with a modified schedule and 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
In the draw this afternoon Minnesota United was drawn into Group D along with Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, and Colorado Rapids. The top two team from this group (and the other 5 groups) will automatically advance to the knockout stage.