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Major League Soccer set to return with World Cup-style tournament

Major League Soccer will soon return to action, but not in its regular format.

MLS officially announced plans on Wednesday morning for an Orlando summer tournament, which will start July 8 and finish August 11. All 26 of the league’s teams will participate in the competition, which will first consist of a group stage and then knockout rounds. A 2021 Concacaf Champions League berth will be given to the winning side.

The competition — officially named MLS is Back Tournament — will be played without fans in attendance. All games will take place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort.

“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 in a statement issued by the league.  “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.”

The tournament’s format will be similar to that of a World Cup, though this competition will consist of five groups of four teams and one group of six teams. Three groups will be comprised of Western Conference teams and the other three of Eastern Conference sides, with Nashville SC temporarily switching from west to east for this event.

Every club will play three group matches — which will count towards the 2020 MLS regular season standings — and the top two finishers from each group along with the four best third-place sides will advance to the Round of 16. Games are scheduled to take place in 9 AM, 8 PM, and 10:30 PM ET windows.

None of the knockout round matches will count towards the final 2020 regular season standings. The official draw for the tournament is set to take place on June 11 at 3:30 PM ET.

The seeded teams for the draw will be Orlando City, Atlanta United, LAFC, the Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC, and Real Salt Lake. Orlando City is seeded as the tournament hosts, while the other five clubs qualified via their 2019 MLS finishes.

The winner of the tournament will book a spot in next year’s Concacaf Champions League, replacing the berth given to the MLS regular season points leader in the conference opposite of the Supporters’ Shield winner.

“Concacaf has approved a request from U.S. Soccer for a one-year alteration to the federation’s Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League spots to support the MLS is Back tournament,” said the regional governing body in a written statement. “…The winner of the MLS is Back competition will qualify for the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, regardless of whether it is a U.S. or Canadian club.”

The substitution limit for each game throughout the tournament will be five per side, as set by FIFA’s new protocol. Video Review will also be in effect for all matches. Knockout round matches that end in a draw will go directly to penalty kicks.

Clubs are expected to arrive in Orlando as early as June 24 for competition preparations. Teams have the ability to stay and train in their respective markets up to eight days before their first match.


  1. FL’s covid numbers are doing a second spike, I realize the mode of the day is “pretend,” but the situation is as bad or worse than when we suspended play, and the choice of location is poor.

    • Taiwan and Korea that have soccer going have negligible cases. They earned their fun from hard effort. Even Germany has maybe a 1000 new cases per week nationwide. We’re pinging 20k a week and have been doing so for 70 days. And it’s about to go up again. We did not clamp down hard when we shut down, and now we want to go out and have fun or protest. This has disease implications.

    • It’s been decided in America that financial well-being is more important than physical well-being. In America the shut down after the first couple weeks when it became obvious we weren’t able to contain was to slow it down to give medical professionals a chance to catch up.
      According to the plan the players will be tested every other day once team training resumes and they’ll be sequestered at the resort, the players will be safer in Orlando than they would be home, where they’d be free to visit restaurants, go grocery shopping, hit the cinema.

  2. Hopefully they don’t ruin this, cause it is actually better than their usual season with a closed league without punishment to bad teams, games matter more even without having bad teams be relegated.
    26 teams, 4 groups of 4 teams and 2 groups of 5 teams…. 1 game vs each team in the group and there you go!
    Now throw relegation next year and problem solved

  3. My only concern is the venue because of the weather. During the day it never gets below 90 with high humidity. Even the night time is problematic. I went to U. of Florida for a year and a half and had the misfortune of being in a dorm without air conditioning the first year. Starting in May it was so miserable that I could never fall asleep before midnight.

    • What I’d be concerned about is the pandemic meets the weather meets players working their way into shape. Elaborating on your point, the teams will be in preseason shape. 5 subs sounds nice but you might want closer to free-sub for this stage of fitness.

      • Hasn’t really been a problem in Germany or Denmark. MLS actually has more training ahead of its opening than other leagues have had.

    • There are quite a few teams that wouldn’t be able to host matches because of their state regulations. My guess is flying on commercial flights once a week was also a concern for home matches at this point and owners likely didn’t want to pay for all those charters. Also if things spike again and you have to end the season after the final you’ve had tournament instead of 7 regular season matches.

      • State regs gives the states too much credit. Texas is undergoing a record spike perhaps worse than the initial one. Technically, it will soon be legal to play games here. I am not a fan of “playing pretend” or being solely concerned with legal dictates or politics. Florida is re-spiking. This makes no health sense.

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