Major League Soccer (MLS) has announced it will resume operations on 8 July with the organisation creating a new tournament based at Walt Disney World Resort’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida.
The ‘MLS is back Tournament’ will feature all of the league’s 26 teams competing in a group stage and knockout competition. All of the events 56 games will also be aired live by the organisation’s various broadcast partners.
Additionally, the group stage matches will contribute to the regular season, which is expected to commence shortly after the tournament under a revised schedule. The competition marks the return of MLS after being suspended three months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
MLS has added further incentives to its clubs and players by announcing that the winner of the tournament will receive a 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League spot. The qualification place replaces the one traditionally awarded to the regular-season conference leader that did not win the Supporters’ Shield. Moreover, players will be competing for a prize pool of $1.1 million, which will be achieved through additional bonuses.
Similarly to other major football leagues, MLS has revealed that the competition will allow clubs to make five substitutions per match, with game day rosters increasing to 23 players in order to prevent the risk of injury.
Throughout the duration of the competition MLS sides will abide by strict health and safety protocols which includes constant testing, social distancing, cleaning and sanitation guidelines, and the wearing of face masks.
The group stage draw for the tournament will begin on 11 June, with 26 teams being drawn into six groups, with the Eastern and Western Conference acquiring three groups each. The competition is scheduled to conclude on 11 August, providing that health and safety protocols are maintained and no issues arise.
On the organisation’s resumption, MLS Commissioner Don Gerber stated: “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 recognise 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.”