It’s been 95 days since the Columbus Crew SC last played in a meaningful soccer game but fans won’t have to wait much longer for their team to return to action. Major League Soccer officially announced the details of its return-to-play format on Wednesday in a World Cup-style tournament in Orlando, Florida.
Like many other professional sports, MLS play was halted as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. Prior to the pause in play, each team played two MLS games to start the 2020 season, with the Crew defeating New York City FC 1-0 at home and earning a 1-1 draw at the Seattle Sounders.
In early July, after a brief layoff, MLS will return with a unique tournament-style competition. The tournament is set to feature all 26 teams and will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando.
“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “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 will be held under strict safety measures with regular COVID-19 testing implemented throughout the duration of the tournament.
How it works
Teams will be split into six separate groups (three Eastern Conference and three Western Conference with Nashville SC joining the East for this tournament) with a draw scheduled for Thursday, June 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET. Teams will begin to arrive in Orlando on June 24 for preseason training, but those who can train in market will be permitted to do so.
The tournament begins with group stage play on July 8, with matches scheduled 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. ET and all games televised using the league’s broadcast partners. The results of each team’s three group stage games will count toward the regular season standings. The top two teams from each group, along with the four best third-place finishers will move on to the knockout stage, which will include a round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and a championship game on Aug. 11. Matches tied at the end of regulation in the knock-out phase will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout.
The winner of the tournament will claim a $1.1 million prize and a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League, replacing the normal Supporters’ Shield-winner spot.
All 26 MLS teams will be drawn into one of six groups during the live draw. The Eastern Conference will have three groups, one consisting of six teams and two consisting of four teams each, including Nashville. The Western Conference will have three groups, each consisting of four teams.
As the host club, Orlando City SC will receive the top seed in Group A and will play in the first game on July 8. The five remaining seeds will consist of Atlanta United, Los Angeles Football Club, the Sounders, Toronto FC – the four semifinalists from the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs – and Real Salt Lake – the team with the next highest points total in the Western Conference from 2019. The seeded teams will be drawn into their respective groups first and then the remaining 20 clubs will be drawn and distributed across the conference-based groups.
June 24: Teams begin arriving in Florida
July 8: MLS is Back Tournament group stage begins
July 25-28: Round-of-16
July 30- Aug. 1: Quarterfinals
August 5-6: Semifinals
August 11: MLS is Back Tournament Final
Following the conclusion of the tournament, MLS plans to finish the 2020 regular season with a revised schedule in-home markets, followed by the MLS Cup playoffs. While MLS announced that the number of games will be made official in the coming weeks, Massive Report was told the league is hoping for 18 matches to close out the regular season.