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MLS announces return to play July 8

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Three months after the coronavirus pandemic caused an unprecedented shutdown of professional sports, the Philadelphia Union know how and when they’ll return to play.

On Wednesday morning, Major League Soccer announced the details of its plan to resume the 2020 season with a tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, beginning on July 8.

β€œThe 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,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a press release.

The tournament’s official logo. Shiny!

The tournament, dubbed the “MLS is Back Tournament,” will feature all 26 clubs drawn into six groups and playing a minimum of three group stage matches, all of which count towards the 2020 MLS regular season.Β  (The Eastern Conference, which will include Nashville SC for this season only, will have three groups, one with six teams and two with four teams.)Β  The top two teams from each group plus the four best third-place finishers will advance to a 16-team knockout stage. The tournament winner earns a place in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, with a $1.1 million prize pool also at stake for the players.

The group stage draw will take place tomorrow, June 11, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

Logistically, teams will begin to arrive in Florida on June 24, two weeks ahead of the start of the tournament on July 8. Although scheduling details are still being ironed out, the tournament will have a “continuous schedule of matches nearly every day” with kickoffs at 9 a.m., 8 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. Eastern, with the “vast majority” of the matches played in the evening. Television details remain forthcoming.

Both game-day rosters and substitutions will be expanded, with each team permitted to name 23 players (rather than 18) to their roster and to use five substitutes (rather than three) during each match. No fans will be permitted to attend any of the matches.

If you’re interested in the details, MLS has published comprehensive competitive and health and safety guidelines for the tournament. The health and safety guidelines establish, among other things, the COVID-19 testing regime and social distancing protocols that will be in effect during the tournament.

After the tournament concludes on August 11, MLS plans to continue its regular season in each club’s home markets. However, details of that schedule, including the final number of matches each team will play, will be announced “in the coming weeks.”

The Union will enter the tournament having played two matches in the 2020 MLS regular season, earning one point through a 2-0 loss against FC Dallas and an unforgettable 3-3 draw against LAFC.

With the season resuming on July 8, MLS will be the first of the major American men’s professional leagues to return to action. The NBA is also set to conclude its season in Orlando beginning on July 31, while the NHL is still working out the logistics of its planned 24-team return. No resumption date is in sight for Major League Baseball, with owners and players mired in bitter negotiations over the details of their season.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    While I’m happy to see MLS coming back, there are some big question marks regarding the way it is being done. First, why Orlando and not somewhere cooler and/or less humid so that they can play at more reasonable times of day? Second, why a full tournament. They are 4 months behind in regular season games but then they are going 2.5 weeks (July 25 – Aug 11) where they are not playing regular season games but are playing CCL qualifiers instead?
    Once again, MLS doesn’t get it right.

    • I actually think this is pretty awesome. It hedges the risk a little by having one location, and they can evaluate the effectiveness of testing, safety procedures, etc while buying time to solve for more complicated logistics of a revised regular season. And I think the format, combined with being out ahead of the other returning sports, will generate some excitement. Even at odd start times.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I’m fine with the one location piece, just thinking there could be somewhere where they can play at a more reasonable time than 9am…and even then it is likely to become pretty unbearable by the end of the game.
        But if it is supposed to be a modified preseason, just have everyone play 4 games rather than some teams play 3 and others play 7.

    • DanC (formerly of 193) says:

      Orlando because it has the infrastructure to host games and house players, families, and staff. Also because ESPN is broadcasting the tournament and Disney owns ESPN.

      The tournament is basically preseason part 2. This gets teams an ability to get in the groove again without impacting the standings while also bringing in revenue for the owners.

  2. So does a team’s tournament record count towards the regular season? Will there be a post season playoff? Is the tournament a replacement for playoffs essentially? Sorry if I’m being obtuse, but I’m having a hard time getting my head around this. Let me add I’m extremely glad there will be matches even if I’m not sure about the format. It hit me about a week ago how much I’ve been missing footy.
    Hope everyone is well.

    • The three “group stage” matches each team plays will count toward the regular season, but the “knockout stage matches” will not. The league hasn’t announced details about the rest of the season, including what the playoffs might look like. My sense is that this tournament is, at least in part, a way to buy time to figure out the myriad logistical questions involved with finishing out the season.

      Believe me, you’re not obtuse. I had to read the press release about seven times to be sure I understood exactly what was (and wasn’t) being announced.

      • I read this after only one cup of coffee and I usually need at least two before my brain works properly. In my first attempt at posting, I had wondered if this was essentially to buy time, but backed off it as I became more confused.
        Anyway, thanks for responding Peter, as always. And thanks for the extra brain power at deciphering.

  3. Gruncle Bob says:

    No 10:30 matches please πŸ™‚

    • Scott of Nazareth says:

      Gotta assume those 10:30 slots would be more for the Western Conf groups to start.

      Not sure how many fields/locations will be utilized in Orlando. Again, assuming more than 1 will be used, they should stagger start the games to allow whatever network has it the ability to bounce around between games each night and maybe catch the final 15 or so minutes for each.

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    I want my MTV.

  5. SoccerDad says:

    Getting back to action before the other sports should be a win for MLS. Disney has the advantage of 1. The playing fields (for both practice and games) 2. The lodging space for the teams (w. training and medical staffs, as well as broadcast crews) to be able to isolate.

    More importantly will the knockout round games count in Fantasy standing πŸ™‚

  6. good news. i’ll take whatever to see competitive soccer (Russian Premier League next week, baby!). probably having double headers daily like other tournaments. we’ll likely get a 7-7:30 and a 10-10:30 on each field

  7. This should be fun to see. I like the tournament idea! And even the 10:30 can be DVRed for later.!

  8. I would hope the 10 teams that don’t make it to the Rof16 could scrimmage eachother and could at least play some more games.That could apply also to the 8 Rof16 losers and maybe even the 4 Qtrfinal losers. That way everyone can stay until August 11th, right? Just an opinion.

  9. In Tanner We Trust says:

    I’m curious about injuries and the Cory Burke situation. Heard he scored a hat trick in the Austrian Bundesliga.

  10. So NYCFC, Miami and Nashville, right? If so, really good draw for sure! Plus we get to play NYCFC on a normal field haha.

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