First suggested by some as a possibility early in the coronavirus pandemic, Major League Soccer has announced their plan to restart their 2020 season in an event taking place at Disney World. All 26 MLS clubs will compete in the "MLS is Back Tournament" at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida starting on July 8. Unfortunately for those eager to attend, the tournament is set to be played without any fans in the stands. This marks the latest collaboration between the MLS and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, having previously completed the 1998 preseason there plus events for the 1998 and 2019 MLS All-Star Games.
"We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. "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."
As outlined in a press release, the group stage matches will count in the MLS regular season standings and the winner of this tournament will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.
"Sports have the power to unify and inspire, particularly during challenging times," said Josh D'Amaro, chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. "And we're looking forward to bringing this exciting sport back to millions of fans, while prioritizing the health and well-being of the players, coaches and support staff as well as our cast members."
MLS Clubs will begin to arrive in Orlando on June 24 to prepare for the event which will kick off on July 8. Matches will take place at 9 AM, 8 PM, and 10:30 PM ET. Each team will play three group stage matches with the top two teams from each group and the four best third-place finishers moving to the knockout stage from July 25-28, followed by the Quarterfinals on July 30- Aug. 1, Semifinals August 5-6, and the Championship on August 11.
A live draw that will take place tomorrow, Thursday, June 11 at 3:30 p.m. EDT to determine the placement of the groups for the MLS is Back Tournament. Orlando City SC will be granted the top seed in Group A since they're the host club, playing the first match of the tournament on July 8.
For those worried about the spread of the coronavirus among the teams competing in the tournament, a comprehensive testing plan has been established by the MLS medical department and the league's infectious disease experts. Testing will be conducted for the entire MLS is Back Tournament with players being tested every other day for their first two weeks and every day before a match day. Players, coaches, and officials not on the field will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing. They've also been directed not to exchange jerseys or kiss the ball. You can read more about the preventative measures being taken here.