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 The league ultimately added Nashville SC to the withdrawn list, after a total of nine players tested positive and the team had to shut down training.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
|Date||Match||Kickoff time (ET)||TV|
|July 8||Orlando City vs. Inter Miami CF||8 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 9||New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union||9 a.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 9||Montreal Impact vs. New England Revolution||8 p.m.||TUDN/TSN|
|July 10||Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes||9 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 11||Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls||8 p.m.||Fox/TUDN/TSN|
|July 11||FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew||10:30 p.m.||FS1/TUDN/TSN|
|July 12||Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United||8 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 12||Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids||10:30 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 13||Toronto FC vs. D.C. United||9 a.m.||ESPN2/TSN|
|July 13||Los Angeles FC vs. Houston Dynamo||8 p.m.||FS1/TUDN/TSN|
|July 13||LA Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers||10:30 p.m.||FS1/TUDN/TSN|
|July 14||Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders||9 a.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 14||Orlando City vs. New York City FC||8 p.m.||TUDN/TSN|
|July 14||Philadelphia Union vs. Inter Miami CF||10:30 p.m.||TUDN/TSN|
|July 15||Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC||8 p.m.||TUDN/TSN|
|July 15||Vancouver Whitecaps vs. San Jose Earthquakes||10:30 p.m.||TUDN/TSN|
|July 16||Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati||9 a.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 16||D.C. United vs. New England Revolution||8 p.m.||FS1/TUDN/TSN|
|July 16||Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls||10:30 p.m.||FS1/TUDN/TSN|
|July 17||Sporting Kansas City vs. Colorado Rapids||8 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 17||Real Salt Lake vs. Minnesota United||10:30 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 18||Portland Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo||8 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 18||Los Angeles FC vs. LA Galaxy||10:30 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 19||Chicago Fire vs. San Jose Earthquakes||8 p.m.||FS1/TUDN/TSN|
|July 19||Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps||10:30 p.m.||FS1/TUDN/TSN|
|July 20||Inter Miami CF vs. New York City FC||9 a.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 20||Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City||8 p.m.||TUDN/TSN|
|July 21||Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution||9 a.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 21||Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew||8 p.m.||TUDN/TSN|
|July 21||Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United||10:30 p.m.||TUDN/TSN|
|July 22||Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City||9 a.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 22||FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls||8 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 22||Colorado Rapids vs. Minnesota United||10:30 p.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 23||Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps||9 a.m.||ESPN/TSN|
|July 23||LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo||8 p.m.||FS1/TUDN/TSN|
|July 23||Los Angeles FC vs. Portland Timbers||10:30 p.m.||ESPN 2/TSN|
Round of 16
|Date||Time (ET)||Game||TV/live stream|
|July 25||8 p.m.||Orlando City vs. Montreal Impact||ESPN 2 (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 25||10:30 p.m.||Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution||ESPN 2 (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 26||8:30 p.m.||Toronto FC vs. New York City FC ||FS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 26||11 p.m.||Sporting Kansas City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps||FS1/fubo/TV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 27||8:30 p.m.||San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake||FS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 27||11 p.m.||Seattle Sounders vs. Los Angeles FC ||FS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 28||8 p.m.||Columbus Crew vs. Minnesota United ||ESPN (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 28||10:30 p.m.||Portland Timbers vs. FC Cincinnati ||ESPN (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 30||8 p.m.||Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City||ESPN (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|July 31||7:30 p.m.||Orlando City vs. Los Angeles FC||FS1/fuboTV (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|Aug. 1||8 p.m.||San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota United||ESPN 2 (U.S.), TSN (CAN)|
|Aug. 1||10:30 p.m.||New York City FC vs. Portland Timbers||FS1/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:
|Group A||Group C||Group E|
|Orlando City SC||Toronto FC||Atlanta United|
|Inter Miami CF||New England Revolution||FC Cincinnati|
|New York City FC||Montreal Impact||New York Red Bulls|
|Philadelphia Union||D.C. United||Columbus Crew|
|Group B||Group D||Group F|
|Seattle Sounders||Real Salt Lake||Los Angeles FC|
|Chicago Fire||Sporting KC||LA Galaxy|
|Vancouver Whitecaps||Colorado Rapids||Houston Dynamo|
|San Jose Earthquakes||Minnesota United||Portland 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.