MLS announces July return with World Cup style tournament

Jun 10 2020, 9:55 am

MLS will become the first major pro sports league in North America to return to play next month.

The 26-team league announced on Wednesday that it will return with a World Cup style tournament on July 8 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando. All teams will stay at one of the many hotels on the Disney property, undergo extensive medical testing, and play matches without fans in attendance.

MLS has been out of action since March 12, when it suspended play due to the pandemic.

The “MLS is Back Tournament” will include a group stage, with 26 teams split into six groups. The league will be broken up into six groups — three in each conference — consisting of four teams each, with the exception of one of the Eastern Conference groups, which will have six teams.

Group stage matches will also count towards the regular season standings, with Major League Soccer saying it still plans to continue playing matches following the tournament, in each team’s home cities. The tournament will conclude on August 11, with the winner earning a spot into the 2021 CONCAF Champions League. At stake for players is also the ability to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.

Players and staff will be subject to extensive medical protocols and a comprehensive testing plan developed by infectious disease experts, the MLS says. Just like the Bundesliga in Germany and Premier League in England, clubs will be allowed to make up to five substitutions per match, an increase on the usual three subs allowed.

A large television audience in North America is expected given that it’s going to be the only active team sports league on the continent until the NBA returns on July 31.

“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,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “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.”

A total of 54 matches will take place, with games beginning as early as 9 am ET/6 am PT, and as late as 10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT. Most matches will be played in the evening however, the league said.

Teams will begin arriving in Florida in two weeks, while a pre-tournament draw to assign groups will take place tomorrow at 3:30 pm ET/12:30 pm PT.

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