Javier Chicharito Hernández and the L.A Galaxy began training earlier this month and will leave for Orlando in late June where they will finish training ahead of the tournament. Photo by LA Galaxy.
By Jeremy Gonzalez, Sports Editor
Soccer fans in the U.S. can rejoice as the return of Major League Soccer is only a few weeks away.
For the first time since play was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early March, MLS will return to action July 8 with a World Cup-style tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida.
All 26 teams will participate in the MLS is Back tournament, with each team competing in the group stage. The top three teams in Group A, the top two teams in the remaining five groups, and the three best third-place teams will advance to the single-elimination knockout stages.
Among the group stage matches, the most intriguing game comes from the group of death, Group F. El Trafico foes Los Angeles FC and the LA Galaxy will lock horns once again in the group stage, providing the next chapter of the heated rivalry, this time from the east coast and without fans.
The highly anticipated match between the LA rivals will take place on July 18, with kickoff scheduled for 10:30 p.m EST and will be aired on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
Similar to a FIFA World Cup, the tournament will feature matches almost every day for a month, with games beginning at 9 a.m, 8 p.m., and 10:30 p.m EST, with a majority of the matches played in the evening.
There are a total of six groups for the tournament: Group A has six teams and Groups B-F contain four teams each. The tournament draw took place on Thursday, June 11, with each team assigned to a group. Each team will play three group stage matches over the first 16 days of the tournament. To view the groups that were finalized from the draw, click here.
The opening match of the tournament comes from Group A, pitting the host team Orlando City against in-state rivals Inter Miami on July 8 at 8 p.m EST on ESPN.
Other rivalries that will introduce fresh chapters during the summer tournament include the all-Canadian affair between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, the Hell is Real derby between FC Cincinnati and the Columbus Crew and the Cascadia Classic between the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps.
The group stage matches will count towards the regular season, which will return following the conclusion of the month-long tournament, with a revised schedule in home markets. The winner of the tournament will earn a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber highlighted that the safety of everyone was a priority when talks began about returning to action.
“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,” Garber said in an official statement made on June 10.
Garber also noted that the tournament will use extensive medical protocols and a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan developed by infectious disease experts to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the tournament.
Here are some key dates to note about the tournament:
- June 24: Teams begin arriving in Florida
- July 8: MLS is Back Tournament group stage begins
- July 25-28: Round of 16 begins
- July 30-Aug. 1: Quarterfinals begin
- Aug. 5-6: Semifinals begin
- Aug. 11: Tournament final
All 54 matches will be played in stand-alone windows and televised across ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, FS1, and TUDN, with none of the matches overlapping. The opening match between Orlando City and Inter Miami is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m and will broadcast on ESPN and the ESPN app.