NASHVILLE – Welcome back, soccer.
On Wednesday, Major League Soccer announced its long-awaited return to play plan: a tournament featuring all 26 MLS clubs taking place in Orlando, Florida starting on July 8. The league becomes the first major men’s professional sports league to return to play.
The format of this tournament is unique given the unique circumstances, so if you’re wondering how this summer’s soccer extravaganza will work, we’ve got all the details.
Dates, Location, Timeline
Dates: July 8-August 11
Location: ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida
- June 24: Teams begin arriving in Florida
- July 8: MLS is Back Tournament group stage begins
- July 25-28: Round of 16 begins
- July 30- Aug. 1: Tournament Quarterfinals
- August 5-6: Tournament Semifinals
- August 11: MLS is Back Tournament Final
The full television schedule for the tournament will be released at a later date.
Format and Competition Rules
The MLS is Back Tournament will feature 54 matches (39 group stage; 15 knockout round). Each club is guaranteed three matches.
The format is similar to the FIFA World Cup with a continuous set of matches nearly every day at 8 a.m. CT, 7 p.m. CT and 9:30 p.m. CT. The 26 teams will be split into six groups, with the Eastern Conference having two groups of four teams and one group of six teams and the Western Conference having three groups of four. Nashville SC has been moved to the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the 2020 season.
The group draw is as follows. Nashville SC was drawn into Group A and will face Orlando City SC, Chicago Fire FC and the Philadelphia Union in the group stage.
- Orlando City SC
- Inter Miami CF
- New York City FC
- Philadelphia Union
- Chicago Fire FC
- Nashville SC
- Seattle Sounders FC
- FC Dallas
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC
- San Jose Earthquakes
- Toronto FC
- New England Revolution
- Montreal Impact
- D.C. United
- Real Salt Lake
- Sporting KC
- Colorado Rapids
- Minnesota United FC
- Atlanta United
- FC Cincinnati
- New York Red Bulls
- Columbus Crew SC
- LA Galaxy
- Houston Dynamo
- Portland Timbers
Each team will play three group stage matches. On June 24, MLS announced that the top three teams in six-team Group A – the top half of the group’s finishers – will advance to the knockout rounds. The top two teams of the other groups will also earn automatic berths to the Round of 16. MLS tiebreaking rules will be used if necessary. The next three highest-ranked teams in the group stage based on points total will round out the field of 16 (note that the 4th placed team in Group A will be eligible to advance). Tiebreakers for these three spots will consist of: (1) goal difference, (2) goals scored and (3) fewest disciplinary points, if necessary. Click here for the full breakdown of this format update.
Knockout round matches that finish tied at the end of regulation will proceed immediately to a penalty shootout.
Per the new protocol set forth by IFAB, each team will be allowed to use five substitutions per match.
Prizes and Regular Season Implications
The winner of the tournament will receive a berth in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, as well as a $1.1 million prize pool for the players.
In addition, each group stage match will count towards the 2020 regular season standings. Upon completion of the MLS is Back Tournament, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and the 25th MLS Cup. That schedule will be developed at a later date.
Health and Safety Protocols
The tournament will use extensive medical protocols and a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan developed by infectious disease experts. It will include a rigorous testing regimen as well as other social distancing and sanitization guidelines. Click here for MLS’ full breakdown of the health and safety protocols