'MLS is Back Tournament': Major League Soccer, Minnesota United to resume play July 8 in Florida

The MLS has approved small-group training for its teams while maintaining strict health protocols and guidelines due to the Covid-19 pandemic. ((credit: Minnesota United))

For the first time in nearly three months, we now know the plan for Major League Soccer to return to play.

MLS owners and the players’ association reached an agreement on a ratified collective bargaining agreement last week, paving the way for soccer to return this summer. We now know when and where.

MLS officials said Wednesday morning the soccer season will resume with all 26 teams competing at the “MLS is Back Tournament” at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, starting July 8. The tournament will be played without fans as MLS aims to resume its 25th season. League officials stopped play back on March 12 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Each team will get three matches in the group stage, which will count in the MLS regular season standings, and the winner of the “MLS is Back Tournament” will get a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.

“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.  “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. We also recognize that the death of George Floyd and others has focused our country on issues of racial injustice, inequality and violence against black men and women. Together with our owners, players and staff, the League and its Clubs are deeply committed to creating meaningful and impactful programs to address these issues that have plagued our society for far too long."

Here's a breakdown of how it will at work:

  • Clubs will report to Orlando as early as June 24 for team training prior to the tournament. Teams opting to stay at their home facilities, abiding by Covid-19 guidelines, must report to Florida no later than seven days before their first match.
  • The tournament will be similar to a FIFA World Cup format and feature a continuous schedule of soccer with matches beginning at 8 a.m., 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. nearly daily. After 16 straight days of group state play, the top two teams in each group and the four top third place finishers will move onto a knockout stage. That will feature a round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and a championship match on Aug. 11. Matches tied at the end of regulation in the knockout stage will go directly to a penalty kick shootout.
  • Teams can have up to 23 players on game day rosters, and players on the winning team can earn up to a $1.1 million bonus pool.
  • Orlando SC has been named the top seed in Group A as the tournament’s host. The other top seeds are the four semifinalists from last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs, Atlanta United, L.A. FC, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake, the team in the Western Conference with the next highest point total.
  • All 26 teams will be put into groups during a live draw on Thursday. The Eastern Conference will have one group consisting of six teams, and two groups with four teams each. The Western Conference will have three groups of four teams each.
  • MLS officials plan for teams to resume play back in their home markets after the tournament concludes on a revised schedule, which will be announced at a later date.

Minnesota United will find out its draw on Thursday. The Loons were 2-0 o the season and preparing for a four-game home stand in the second year at Allianz Field when the MLS suspended play due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minnesota United resumed voluntary individual training at National Sports Center in Blaine about three weeks ago, started small-group training this week and will begin full team training once their practice plan is approved.