Major League Soccer returns to action this week after the season was halted on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All 26 teams will be divided into six groups and compete in the World Cup-style “MLS is Back Tournament.” Each team will play three matches at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
Here are the tournament groups:
GROUP A (Eastern Conference): Orlando City SC; Inter Miami CF; New York City FC; Philadelphia Union; Chicago Fire FC; Nashville SC
GROUP B (Western Conference): Seattle Sounders FC; Vancouver Whitecaps FC; San Jose Earthquakes
GROUP C (Eastern Conference): Toronto FC; New England Revolution; Montreal Impact; D.C. United
GROUP D (Western Conference: Real Salt Lake; Sporting Kansas City; Colorado Rapids; Minnesota United FC
GROUP E (Eastern Conference): Atlanta United FC; FC Cincinnati; New York Red Bulls; Columbus Crew SC
GROUP F (Western Conference) LAFC; LA Galaxy; Houston Dynamo; Portland Timbers FC
The tournament kicks off Wednesday with a Group A doubleheader: Orlando City SC face Florida foes Inter Miami CF (8 p.m.), followed by Chicago Fire FC taking on Nashville SC (10:30 p.m.). Both matches will air on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and TSN in Canada.
July 8-23: Group stage
The Revolution, playing in Group C, will open their tournament play against the Montreal Impact on Thursday at 8 p.m.
They will also face D.C. United on July 16 at 8 p.m. and Toronto FC on July 21 at 9 a.m.
Here is the rest of the schedule for Group C:
July 10: Toronto FC vs. D.C. United, 8 p.m.
July 15: Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC, 8 p.m.
July 21: Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United, 10:30 p.m.
After the group stage, the tournament moves on:
July 25-28: Knockout Stage (Round of 16)
July 30-August 1: Quarterfinals
August 5-6: Semifinals
August 11: Final
All 54 matches will be televised nationally on ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, FS1, and TUDN. All ESPN and ESPN2 matches will also be streamed live on the ESPN App. FOX/FS1 matches and TUDN matches will be streamed on the FOX Sports App and TUDN App, respectively. In addition, the 10 matches that are broadcast on TUDN exclusively in the US will be streamed in English on the @TUDN Twitter account.
The top two teams in each group, as well as the four best third-place teams, will advance to the knockout stage. From there, the 16 qualifying teams will be whittled down until a champion is decided in the tournament final on Aug. 11.
Games will be played at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. to avoid the high Florida temperatures. (Average high temperatures are 92 degrees, with an average low of 78 degrees.) A total of seven matches will take place at 9 a.m., all of which will air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes in the US and on TSN in Canada.
The group stage will take place over 16 consecutive days. All clubs will have at least four full days between matches. Points accumulated in the group stage will count toward the regular-season standings. The winner of the elimination stage will qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. The tournament will also give players the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.
“It is a unique situation, however it’s an important competition,” Revolution sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena said before departing for Orlando last week. “These game count, in group play, for our regular season record. We’re not in great position even though we’ve only played two games, so we think it’s vitally important. Our goal is to go out and try to win every game.”
The entire tournament will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. All 26 MLS teams will be lodged at the Swan & Resort in Lake Buena Vista, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place. The hotels will have eight different security checkpoints as well as CCTV, according to ESPN. At the quarterfinal stage, after July 29, the bubble will be contained entirely in the Swan hotel, at which point there will be seven security checkpoints.
Outside of games and practice, teams will be confined to the hotel, with intermingling discouraged. Leaving the hotel for anything other than team- and/or league-approved events is prohibited for as long as that player’s team is in the tournament.
If anyone exits the bubble without authorization and attempts to reenter, that person will be subject to “enhanced testing” and a period in quarantine of 10 days. Players and staff must have written permission to leave the resort grounds, except in the case of a medical emergency.
Players, coaches and support staff will be tested every other day for two weeks after arriving in Florida. Those individuals, as well as referees, will then be tested regularly, including prior to each match.