Major League Soccer will return to the field next month with a World Cup-style tournament involving all 26 teams, to be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World Resort in Florida. After that it will return to its regular 2020 season, which has been shut down since early March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The teams will be split into six groups for the MLS is Back Tournament, which will be played at empty parks. The first game in the three-game group stage be played July 8, followed by a total of 15 knockout round games leading into the final August 11. Teams begin arriving in Florida on June 24, and player and staff will face rigorous testing.
Walt Disney World Resort executives recently unveiled a phased plan to reopen its Magic Kingdom and Disney Animal Kingdom on July 11 and Epcott and Disney Hollywood Studios on July 15.
The league said games will be played at 9 AM ET, 8 PM ET and 10:30 PM ET. Currently, ESPN, Fox and Univision have TV rights, but no world yet on how to watch. Those details are coming Thursdy during the group draw.
To make the seeding work, Nashville SC will be placed in the Eastern Conference and remain there for the 2020 season; the Eastern conference will have three groups (one of six teams and two with four teams each), with “host” team Orlando City SC the top seed in the six-team group. The Western Conference will have three groups, each consisting of four teams. The four semifinalists from the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs – Atlanta, LAFC, Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC – will join Orlando as group seeds along with Real Salt Lake which had the next-most points in the West during the 2019 season.
Games will count in the regular-season standings, players can compete to split a $1.1 million prize pool and the winner will automatically qualify for a 2021 CONCACAF Champions League spot.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said that after the tournament he hopes the teams can return to their cities for the resumption of the season, which was halted March 12 only two weeks into the schedule. The league is working on a revised schedule now.
“I’m very optimistic, and I expect that we will be back in our stadiums. We just don’t know the exact date,” he told ESPN. “Obviously this is all unfolding in real time, and literally every day.”
The move follows the women’s U.S. pro soccer league the NWSL, which is holding a tournament for all teams beginning June 27 in three sites in Utah. More pro soccer leagues in Europe are also restarting, with the German Bundesliga among the first to return to play. Spain resumes play Thursday with England and Italy on their heels.