Major League Soccer is set to return next month, with the ‘MLS is Back’ tournament to begin on July 8th.
The tournament will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort.
Taking place in a World Cup-style format, with group and knockout stages, the MLS’ 26 teams will be split into six groups – three each for the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Group results will count towards the league season’s standings. The winner of the tournament, which ends on August 11th, will qualify for the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
“A really cool, unique format”
To determine the six groups for the initial phase, a preliminary draw will take place today. One big change from regular soccer rules is that each team will be allowed five substitutions, as opposed to the usual three. This has been adopted for the Bundesliga in Germany, as well as the English Premier League.
Toronto FC President Bill Manning spoke about the tournament format that his team will be competing in. His thoughts were as follows.
“That [the Champions League place] really adds weight to the tournament.
“I think (the tournament) is a really cool, unique format to get some group games in and then really have a knockout competition for a Champions League berth. That really raises the stakes.
“I’m really glad that we can talk about soccer again as opposed to before, when we had no training and very limited training.”
Each team will play three group games, with 16 sides qualifying for the first knockout round. After that there will be a quarter-final and semi-final, prior to the final.
Games will be played in both morning and evening, due to the extreme heat and humidity that Florida can reach during the summer. Matches will be played over 16 successive days, with multiple games on each day during the group phase.
Teams will be allowed to travel for training and pre-tournament preparations from June 24th onwards.
Plans for the full MLS season
Once the ‘MLS is Back’ tournament is over, it’s intended that the regular league campaign will commence. The plan is for all games to be played in clubs’ home cities, as would be the case in every other season.
Teams had already played two games of the current season before the outbreak of COVID-19 forced the league’s suspension on March 12th.
Florida to have a summer of sports
Also planned to take place in Florida is the remainder of the NBA season, which will be played from July 31st until October 12th. These dates depend on whether or not a deal can be struck with Walt Disney for the use of its resort.
After the season, the NBA Draft is expected to take place on October 15th. The 2020/2021 campaign will then begin on December 1st.
The total campaign will feature 171 fewer games than a normal one would, with 1,059 taking place in total.
NBA players and personnel will be allowed to travel to the Sunshine State and prepare for the season restart from July 7th.