Major League Soccer returns on July 8 as the Orlando plan was finally announced this morning.
Dubbed the MLS is Back Tournament, the plan sees all 26 MLS teams competing in a group stage that counts towards the regular season. A 16-team knockout stage will crown not only a winner, but the first qualifier for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.
A draw on Thursday will determine the six groups. Orlando City are seeded in the six-team Group A, while the rest will contain four teams. Groups C and E will also be the Eastern Conference groups, as Atlanta United and Toronto FC will find out which groups they are seeded in. LAFC, Seattle Sounders, and Real Salt Lake will be the seeds for Groups B, D, and F.
Seeds were decided as MLS Cup Playoffs semifinalists from 2019, as well as Orlando as the host club, and Real Salt Lake as the next highest points total in the Western Conference.
The draw will be streamed live from 2:30pm on MLS’ social media platforms as well as YouTube and MLSsoccer.com.
All 54 games will be broadcast on MLS partner networks with games kicking off at 8am, 7pm, and 9:30pm CDT. This allows for a World Cup-style schedule and avoids much of Central Florida’s heat and humidity, as well as the frequent storms that could delay games.
MLS will adopt the temporary five substitutes rule that the International Football Association Board passed to help mitigate injury risk. Game day rosters will also increase from 18 to 23. The league will continue to use VAR in Orlando, which should be assisted by additional camera angles used as part of expanded broadcasts.
MLS will conduct comprehensive testing of all players and staff before, during, and after their time in Orlando. Before departing, all players and staff will undergo two Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. That’s the nasal swab. They will also have to take an antibody test which will show if the person has carried or previously had the virus. Players will be allowed to travel if they receive a positive result for the latter but do not present symptoms.
Players will then take a PCR test every other day. Staff and match officials will also be tested regularly including the day before a game. Similar social distancing guidelines to both MLS practices and what we’ve seen adopted in Bundesliga will be in place.
After the tournament, a revised schedule will be determined with FC Dallas returning to play at Toyota Stadium. Despite The State of Texas allowing stadiums to open up, MLS seems unlikely to allow fans given the national scope.