Major League Soccer announced details of the schedule and group-stage matchups for the MLS is Back Tournament, which is set to kick off in Orlando on July 8. The league also announced a modification to the competition format.
The league suspended play in early March after just two rounds of games in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but announced plans on June 10 for all 26 MLS teams to participate in the competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex just outside Orlando, Florida. (ESPN is owned by The Walt Disney Company.)
The tournament will consist of a group stage with each team playing three matches, followed by a knockout stage. The competition format will still see 16 teams advance to the knockout round, but now Group A, which contains six teams, will have three teams advance instead of the originally proposed two. The top two teams from the remaining five groups will also advance, as will the three best teams outside of the automatic qualification spots. The final will be played Aug. 11.
The opening match on July 8 pits expansion Inter Miami against hosts Orlando City in the first Florida derby between the two teams and Nashville SC playing the Chicago Fire afterward (watch both matches live on ESPN starting at 8 p.m. ET). The matches mark the first of 16 consecutive days of games.
Other group matches of note include defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders playing the San Jose Earthquakes on July 10 and LAFC facing the Los Angeles Galaxy on July 18 (both matches will air live on ESPN). The entire group-stage schedule can be found here.
ESPN will oversee game production services for MLS broadcast partners throughout the tournament, delivering produced feeds of all matches to FOX Sports, Univision, TSN, TVA Sports and the league's international broadcast networks. Each broadcast partner will use their own on-air talent to call the games and produce their own graphics packages for use during telecasts.
The San Jose Earthquakes departed for Orlando on Wednesday, making them the first team to arrive, with more teams set to follow.
All of the group stage matches will count in the regular-season standings, with the winner of the tournament earning a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, regardless of whether it is a U.S. or Canadian club. The winner would replace the berth previously awarded to the MLS regular-season points leader in the conference opposite of the 2020 Supporters' Shield winner.
In addition to matches that count in the regular-season standings and the Champions League berth, players will have the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool. All told, 54 games will be played over four weeks.
Once the MLS is Back Tournament is over, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, followed by the MLS Cup playoffs and the 25th MLS Cup. The dates are still to be determined for the playoffs and MLS Cup, while the final number of matches and the schedule for the remainder of the 2020 MLS regular season will be announced in the coming weeks.
In a bid to maintain the health and safety of players, staff and other support personnel, MLS, in conjunction with the league's infectious disease experts, have developed a COVID-19 testing plan that will be implemented for the entire MLS is Back Tournament. In addition, MLS will make a contribution of serology (antibodies) tests to Central Florida residents beginning June 18.