The first one is, simply, that MLS is back!
As announced Wednesday morning, the league will return to play with a tournament held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL that kicks off on July 8. All 26 MLS clubs are set to participate in what will be a FIFA World Cup-style competition that includes a group stage, a knockout stage, and championship match set to be played on Aug. 11.
With the league's long-awaited return to play now less than a month away, here are six more key takeaways on the upcoming tournament and its format:
By the Numbers
From July 8 through Aug. 11, the MLS is Back Tournament will include a total of 54 matches played -- 39 in the group stage, and 15 in the knockout stage. Following the group stage, the 26 teams will be whittled down to a Round-of-16 knockout stage, followed by a Quarterfinal Round, a Semifinal Round, and a Championship match. Games will be played on 26 of the 32 days in that time span, giving fans a near-daily dose of soccer to consume. Each participating club is only guaranteed to play their three group stage games, but could play up to seven matches total should they advance to the tournament final.
The Fire will find out their group draw fate on Thursday afternoon, when MLS will hosts a live-streamed tournament draw at 2:30 p.m. CT hosted on MLSsoccer.com, as well as MLS Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The Fire -- as well as their 25 MLS counterparts -- will be drawn into one of six groups. The 14-team Eastern Conference will have three groups, one of six teams and two with four teams each. The 12-team Western Conference will also be divided into three groups, each consisting of four teams. Of note, Nashville SC will move to the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the 2020 season. A full breakdown of tomorrow's draw can be found here.
Set Your Alarm
We've got morning matches! MLS plans to air tournament matches nearly every day on a continuous schedule, which includes an 8 a.m. CT kick off slot. However, according to the league’s press release, the “vast majority” of tournament matches will be played in the evenings with time slots at 7 p.m. CT and 9:30 p.m. CT. The exact tournament schedule and broadcast details are yet to be announced, but will be provided soon according to MLS.
Matches with Meaning
Despite the one-off nature of a tournament format, elements of the MLS is Back Tournament will carry over into the league's plans to resume the 2020 regular season and beyond. The results of each team's three group stage matches will count towards the 2020 MLS regular season standings, while the tournament winner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.
As further incentive, players will have the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.
Rules & Regs
As part of the return to play, MLS has made player and staff safety a priority in the wake of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. The league's health, safety, and medical protocols are outlined in detail here.
From a matchday look-and-feel standpoint, each of the tournament's matches will be played in empty stadiums. The tournament will also follow the new protocol set by the IFAB and allow five substitutions per match, while teams will be allowed to name up to 23 players on their official matchday rosters.
Also of note, once the tournament enters its Knockout Stage, all matches (including the Competition Final) will go straight to penalty kicks should they be tied at the end of regulation.
Wednesday's announcement also included that -- upon completion of the MLS is Back Tournament -- the league plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and the 25th MLS Cup. All of those details will be announced at a later date.