MLS is Back tournament updated schedule, TV channels, format & more to know about 2020 restart

In the days after the rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout the world was declared by the World Health Organization to be a global pandemic, every major sports organization in the world shut down in the hope joining the quarantine would help prevent the disease from inflicting even greater damage.

Until recently, the only elite team sport leagues that managed to successfully return have been in soccer: among them the Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga in Europe, NWSL here in the United States.

Major League Soccer launched its attempt this week with the MLS is Back Tournament.

MORE: Watch MLS action on fuboTV (free seven-day trial)

The league determined the quickest route to get its players back into action and onto the field would be to create a “bubble” in one particular location with sufficient hotel space and practice fields to accommodate all its teams. That led them to Orlando, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

However, Florida gradually (and then rapidly) became one of the hottest areas in the country relative to spread of the coronavirus, leading to concern about the ability of the officials to prevent COVID-19 from penetrating the MLS bubble.

That was not helped when multiple members of the FC Dallas squad tested positive for the virus after arriving in Orlando and several more were discovered the in succeeding days. Monday, Dallas was excused from the tournament. The league ultimately added Nashville SC to the withdrawn list, after a total of nine players tested positive and the team had to shut down training. The Colorado Rapids delayed their flight to Orlando because of two positive tests. Because of the two withdrawals, the Chicago Fire were moved from Group A to Group B, giving the tournament six four-team groups.

Overall, though, MLS has had relatively few players produce positive COVID tests and should be able to complete its tournament — so long as the bubble approach keeps the virus confined to the outside world.

All games from the tournament group stages will count toward teams’ regular-season records. MLS hopes to resume competition in home venues (with or without spectators) subsequent to completion of the MLS is Back Tournament.

When does the MLS is Back tournament start?

The opening game was Wednesday, July 8, matching Orlando City and Inter Miami CF, one of two new franchises in the league for 2020. Both teams had played two games at the time the league shut down in early March.

Orlando City, led by longtime Manchester United regular Nani, had split its first two games. Inter has a potential league star in midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro and still is searching for its first MLS victory. Nani wound up scoring the game-winning goal in added time for a 2-1 Orlando City victory.

The first morning match, matching the Philadelphia Union and New York City FC, occurred Thursday, July 9, with the Union earning a 1-0 victory.

The first “West Coast” start, a 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff, was on July 11, a Hell is Real Derby between FC Cincinnati and the Columbus Crew. The Crew rolled to a 4-0 victory.

MORE: FC Dallas’ removal not a sign that MLS is Back tournament needs to go

MLS is Back schedule 2020

  • Group play: July 8-23
  • Round of 16: July 25-28
  • Quarterfinals: July 30-Aug. 1
  • Semifinals: Aug. 5-6
  • Championship: Aug. 11
DateMatchKickoff time (ET)TV
July 8Orlando City vs. Inter Miami CF8 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 9New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union9 a.m.ESPN/TSN
July 9Montreal Impact vs. New England Revolution8 p.m.TUDN/TSN
July 10Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes9 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 11Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls8 p.m.Fox/TUDN/TSN
July 11FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew10:30 p.m.FS1/TUDN/TSN
July 12Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United8 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 12Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids10:30 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 13Toronto FC vs. D.C. United9 a.m.ESPN2/TSN
July 13Los Angeles FC vs. Houston Dynamo8 p.m.FS1/TUDN/TSN
July 13LA Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers10:30 p.m.FS1/TUDN/TSN
July 14Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders9 a.m.ESPN/TSN
July 14Orlando City vs. New York City FC8 p.m.TUDN/TSN
July 14Philadelphia Union vs. Inter Miami CF10:30 p.m.TUDN/TSN
July 15Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC8 p.m.TUDN/TSN
July 15Vancouver Whitecaps vs. San Jose Earthquakes10:30 p.m.TUDN/TSN
July 16Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati9 a.m.ESPN/TSN
July 16D.C. United vs. New England Revolution8 p.m.FS1/TUDN/TSN
July 16Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls10:30 p.m.FS1/TUDN/TSN
July 17Sporting Kansas City vs. Colorado Rapids8 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 17Real Salt Lake vs. Minnesota United10:30 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 18Portland Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo8 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 18Los Angeles FC vs. LA Galaxy10:30 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 19Chicago Fire vs. San Jose Earthquakes8 p.m.FS1/TUDN/TSN
July 19Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps10:30 p.m.FS1/TUDN/TSN
July 20Inter Miami CF vs. New York City FC9 a.m.ESPN/TSN
July 20Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City8 p.m.TUDN/TSN
July 21Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution9 a.m.ESPN/TSN
July 21Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew8 p.m.TUDN/TSN
July 21Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United10:30 p.m.TUDN/TSN
July 22Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City9 a.m.ESPN/TSN
July 22FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls8 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 22Colorado Rapids vs. Minnesota United10:30 p.m.ESPN/TSN
July 23Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps9 a.m.ESPN/TSN
July 23LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo8 p.m.FS1/TUDN/TSN
July 23Los Angeles FC vs. Portland Timbers10:30 p.m.ESPN 2/TSN

Round of 16

DateTime (ET)GameTV/live stream
July 258 p.m.Orlando City vs. Montreal ImpactESPN 2 (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
July 2510:30 p.m.Philadelphia Union vs. New England RevolutionESPN 2 (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
July 268:30 p.m.Toronto FC vs. New York City FC FS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
July 2611 p.m.Sporting Kansas City vs. Vancouver WhitecapsFS1/fubo/TV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
July 278:30 p.m.San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt LakeFS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
July 2711 p.m.Seattle Sounders vs. Los Angeles FC FS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
July 288 p.m.Columbus Crew vs. Minnesota United ESPN (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
July 2810:30 p.m.Portland Timbers vs. FC Cincinnati ESPN (U.S.), TSN (CAN)


July 308 p.m.Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas CityESPN (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
July 317:30 p.m.Orlando City vs. Los Angeles FCFS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
Aug. 18 p.m.San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota UnitedESPN 2 (U.S.), TSN (CAN)
Aug. 110:30 p.m.New York City FC vs. Portland TimbersFS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)


Aug 5, 8 p.m., FS1 (U.S.), TSN (CAN)

Aug. 6, 8 p.m., ESPN 2 (U.S.), TSN (CAN)


Aug. 11, 8 p.m., ESPN (U.S.), TSN (CAN)

What channel are MLS games on?

  • U.S.: ESPN, ESPN2, Fox, FS1 and TUDN
  • Canada: TSN

MLS games will be televised by the ESPN and Fox networks, along with TUDN, in the U.S., and TSN in Canada.

Games on Fox, FS1 and TUDN in the U.S. are also available to stream via fuboTV, which offers a seven-day free trial.

Explaining the MLS is Back format, groups

The MLS is Back Tournament is constructed similar to a World Cup — a 24-team World Cup.

There are 24 teams in the tournament following the departures of FC Dallas and Nashville SC, and MLS had to adjust the original format. There are six groups, with Eastern Conference teams split into groups A, C and E. Western Conference teams are in groups B, D and F, with the exception of the Chicago Fire, an Eastern team that was moved to Group B to account for the withdrawals. Each team will play three group stage matches. 

The top two teams in each group advance to the 16-team knockout round.

The other four spots will be taken by the teams that finish third with the most points.

The knockout rounds begin with the Round of 16 between July 25-28, with two games contested each day. The championship game will be played Aug. 11. The winner receives automatic entry to the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.

Here are how the teams are broken down by group: 

Eastern Conference

Group AGroup CGroup E
Orlando City SCToronto FCAtlanta United
Inter Miami CFNew England RevolutionFC Cincinnati
New York City FCMontreal ImpactNew York Red Bulls
Philadelphia UnionD.C. UnitedColumbus Crew

Western Conference

Group BGroup DGroup F
Seattle SoundersReal Salt LakeLos Angeles FC
Chicago FireSporting KCLA Galaxy
Vancouver WhitecapsColorado RapidsHouston Dynamo
San Jose EarthquakesMinnesota UnitedPortland Timbers

Where is the MLS is Back tournament?

  • MLS is Back site: Orlando, Fla.

The tournament will be staged at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, which contains 17 fields that can be employed for soccer training or competition.

Disney opened the complex in 1997, and it contains a basketball fieldhouse and other courts that will be used for the NBA’s return, as well as baseball and softball fields and a track.

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