TORONTO, Canada—Major League Soccer is
back officially back.
On Wednesday, the league announced its return-to-play plans, starting with a World Cup style of tournament at Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. 16 straight days of early-morning and late-night matches begin July 8 without fans.
“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 press release. “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.”
Here’s how it’ll work.
The “MLS is Back Tournament” Structure
Like the World Cup, teams will be divided into groups: five groups of four and one group of six. Being one of last season’s semifinalists, Toronto FC will head one of the four-team groups in the East.
As previously reported, clubs will play a total of three round-robin games that will count towards their 2020 MLS regular season record. Toronto FC will face the Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, and D.C. United in Group C.
After the group stage, 16 of the 26 teams (the top-two teams in each group, plus four wildcards) will advance to the round-of-16, where they’ll compete for a $1.1 million prize pool. In addition, all clubs—Canadian sides included—will be competing for an additional Concacaf Champions League spot, awarded to the winner of the tournament.
Broadcasted nationally, game times will be as follows, according to the press release.
“Similar to a FIFA World Cup format, the tournament will feature a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day, with games beginning at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. EST. The vast majority of the matches will be played in the evening.”
Teams, for the most part, will likely depart for Florida on June 24 to begin a two-week training camp down south. With the green light already given to resume full team training by the league and local health officials, Toronto FC will opt to fly in early July (in accordance with the league) instead of June, team President Bill Manning told reporters via a media call Wednesday.
Once arrived, some 700 players will be quarantined together at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, a 2270-room hotel located in Central Florida, which should be able to comfortably host all of the players and staff.
A few more quick tidbits. Matchday rosters will be expanded to a 23-player squad, while five subs per side will be allowed. VAR will also be in-play at the tournament.
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
MLS IS BACK TOURNAMENT – July 8 – August 11
Number of Matches: 54 (39 group; 15 knockout)
No. of matchdays: 26
Format: Group Stage, followed by Round-of-16, Quarters, Semis & Finals
Minimum Matches: 3 (per club)
Maximum Matches: 7 (per club)
What happens after the Tournament?
After the conclusion of the tournament, MLS confirmed plans to resume its 2020 season with a “revised schedule in home markets” to be announced at a later date. That includes the MLS Cup Playoffs and, of course, the MLS Cup.
Whether or not that includes playing North of the border right away, however, remains dependent on the current state of the pandemic. But as TFC GM Ali Curtis told the Fan590’s Writers Bloc yesterday afternoon, from his stance, the goal is for Toronto FC to return home to BMO Field after the competition.
Regardless, we’re a month away from seeing TFC back in action.