Coronavirus / Union

3 big differences between the MLS restart and other major soccer leagues

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

The MLS is Back tournament will be kicking off on July 8th, with all MLS teams heading into the Walt Disney World bubble so that we can all enjoy MLS soccer again.

While everyone adjusts to a new normal, MLS is no different,:the list of things that will be the new normal is exhausting. But, what is different with MLS’ model compared to the Bundesliga and Premier League model we have seen playing out on our tv screens recently? For me, there are three key differences between the two approaches which could have an effect on overall play.

It’s a Tournament

The most obvious difference: MLS is playing a tournament, not restarting the season where it stopped.

Where this gets tricky is that the MLS is Back Tournament matches will still count towards regular season standings. MLS teams will have both minds of thinking to do well in the tournament, while also knowing these games matter for the MLS playoffs. This format will probably help MLS ensure that matches stay competitive, making sure teams are still fighting for points after already being eliminated from the group stage. In Europe, most leagues only had 10 or so games remaining, making it much easier to resume the season and have it quickly finish, whereas MLS had only played 2 games. A tournament format was probably the correct decision, making a more competitive and entertaining return to American soccer.

No home field advantage

With all MLS teams playing at Disney World, there is no home field advantage (no, Orlando is not a home team). This may be another surprising advantage to the tournament format, as without fans a home field advantage has seemed to disappear. Especially in the Bundesliga, we have seen road teams winning much more often, especially in a league known for home field advantage. Perhaps it’s easier to get motivated for a match when you’re traveling on the team bus, much like before the pause, then it is to drive yourself to an empty stadium. In Orlando, no MLS team has the advantage of traveling to match, every player and coach will wake up in a Disney hotel room and take a five-to-ten minute ride to the game. How coaches and players themselves can find motivation to play a match at 100% is going to be the main issue, because it’s clearly had an effect in Germany.

No pre-tournament friendlies

The last major difference between MLS and Bundesliga and the Premier League, is that MLS is not allowing MLS clubs to schedule friendlies prior to the tournament. While this decision is good for player safety in a pandemic, it also comes at the cost of quality of play. Both England and Germany allowed friendlies before the restart, and the first few matches were still sloppy and disjointed, basically turning into who can run the longest. While this issue will be resolved by the end of the group stage, the first round of games are going to be ugly. Ugliness is not something MLS should want displayed on national TV when you’re one of the only sports playing. From a Union perspective, this could be a blessing as Jim Curtin has praised his team’s fitness in training.

Will these differences help create a more entertaining and, more importantly, a safer way to restart the season? I certainly hope so. Like everything MLS, this restart will be different than what we’ve seen in Europe, and that may just come out to the Union’s advantage.


  1. MLS just announced that Columbus-Minnesota ARE in fact playing a pre-tournament friendly… ‍And the article says that NYCFC and Dallas have a pre-tournament friendly scheduled as well

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    I think playing games in one place and cutting down on travel makes a lot of sense in a league where DC United and New England are approximately the same distance apart as the longest road trip in the Premier League.
    That being said, the KO part of the tournament is stupid. It’s basically a waste of two weeks to have games that don’t count and only played by a limited number of teams.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      Right. If they had made it so the 6 group winners and top 2 2nd place teams advanced, it would cut down an unnecessary round. I was thinking about this the other day: the group stage games are the most important to me, and a potential round of 16 game having the least possible intrigue. I think the R of 16 and quarterfinals will be dependent on the matchup itself. I don’t particularly care about games against Montreal and Cincinnati to get to the semis. But the semis and champ game I’d care about for sure. It’s a trophy and CCL within reach.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      I’m also not huge on keeping the leagues separated in the group stage. We’re not gonna see any West Coast teams for the rest of the regular season schedule. It would be nice to get Seattle or Galaxy or SKC in a group game.

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