NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Major League Soccer officially announced the details of its return to play tournament on Wednesday.
Dubbing it the “MLS is Back Tournament”, the league will see all 26 teams head to Orlando and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the tournament that begins July 8.
The tournament will see 54 matches played (39 group stage, 15 knockout rounds) across 26 days. The group stage will count towards the regular season, which will continue following the conclusion of the tournament. The winner of the tournament will receive a bid to play in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
In terms of the key dates, the tournament will see teams arrive in Orlando beginning June 24, with the group stage starting July 8. The Round of 16 knockout stage will be played July 25-28, the quarterfinals July 30-Aug. 1, semifinals Aug. 5 and 6 and the final will be held Aug. 11.
For the tournament, the teams are being split into six groups. In the Eastern Conference, where NYCFC and New York Red Bulls reside, there will be one group of six teams and two groups of four teams. In the Western Conference, there will be three groups of four teams. The draw for the group stage of the tournament is set for this Thursday at 3:30 p.m. EST/PST.
“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,” said commissioner Don Garber in a statement. “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.”
The league has developed a testing and player healthy and safety plan for the tournament. The plan includes two COVID-19 tests 24 hours apart for all players and essential personnel prior to travel to Orlando. In addition, players will have to undergo an antibody test as part of a physical test that includes a temperature screening. The full health and safety protocols for the tournament can be found here.
The plan for after the tournament is to have a revised schedule of regular season games in home markets, though those plans have not been announced yet.