By Ben Wright, editor.
Major League Soccer officially announced their plan to restart the 2020 season on Wednesday, with all 26 clubs set to compete in the MLS Is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney Resort in Florida, without fans in attendence. Set to begin on July 8, the tournament will consist of a group stage and a knockout stage, with the winner earning 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. “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."
Clubs will begin arriving in Orlando as early as June 24 for preseason training, although clubs that are allowed to train fully in their home market may arrive later. MLS released their health and safety protocols for the tournament today, including testing every other day for the first two weeks, increased hygiene standards, and mask wearing and social distancing in the bench areas. This has been practiced in Germany as the Bundesliga returned.
Matches will kick off at 8am, 7pm and 930pm central, with the majority of matches played in the evening. Each team will play three group stage matches, which will count towards the 2020 MLS regular season standings. The knockout stage will being after 16 days of group matches, with the top two teams from each group and the four best third-place finishers advancing to the Round-of-16. The Championship match will take place on August 11.
As part of the announcement, Nashville SC announced that they will move to MLS's Eastern Conference for the tournament, and will stay in the East throughout the remainder of the 2020 season. Nashville was the easternmost team in the Western Conference at the start of the season, and was selected to switch conferences in a bid to reduce travel and recovery times in between matches, with the remainder of the 2020 season set to be much more congested. Nashville's farthest distance travelled will include a 924 mile flight to Montreal, compared to a 2,041 mile flight to Vancouver. “Moving to the Eastern Conference is great for Nashville SC and our fans,” said Mike Jacobs, Nashville SC General Manager. "Soccer is so tribal, and the opportunity to play this 2020 season against regional rivals in proximity to Nashville is really important for our club on and off the pitch.”
Upon completion of the MLS Is Back Tournament, MLS plans to continue the 2020 regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, as well as the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup, with an announcement on number of matches and scheduling set for the coming weeks.
All 26 clubs will be drawn into six groups in a live draw scheduled for Thursday, June 11 at 2:30 pm central.