MLS Returns in Orlando (We Hope)
(Photo: Steveo89/Wikimedia Commons)
by Russell Varner
So, in case you haven’t heard, Major League Soccer is back! (Yes, COVID-pending.... We think it's back. We hope it's back.)
And if so, it’s back with the creatively named "MLS is Back Tournament." What is more MLS than that?
There is a good chance you already know a ton about the tournament – most of the information can be found on the league's official site here. But, if you are reading this, maybe you don’t know everything there is to know or don’t feel like reading through all those pages and clicking all those hyperlinks.
So, here’s a TL;DR for all the important points to this month's Returnament.
1. Think the World Cup, just with MLS teams.
The easiest way to describe the tournament is that: It’s the World Cup with MLS teams... but results will count towards the regular season. Again, because MLS.
The six groups have four teams that will each play each other once. Except Group A. That one has six teams, and they won’t play all the teams in their group. Go figure.
The two top teams from each group advance to the knockout round – again, except Group A. The top three teams from that group will make it.
Joining them in the knockout round will be the next three teams with the most points. If there are any ties, regular season tiebreakers will be used (points, then goal differential, then goals scored and then fewest disciplinary points).
2. There’s more than just regular season points on the line.
The winner of the MLS is Back Tournament automatically qualifies for next year’s CONCACAF Champions League. That is a big deal. The winning team also earns additional bonuses from the $1.1 million prize pool, which is also nice.
3. Kickoff times are wild.
Almost every game will kick off in Orlando at 8 PM or 10:30 PM EST. Yes, 10:30 PM. Seven other games will be kicking off at 9 AM. We will all finally get the opportunity to live out our dreams of breakfast and MLS games at the same time!
4. Games will be broadcasted on the usual channels. Mostly.
You’ll find two or three games per day on either ESPN, FOX, Fox Sports 1, TUDN, or Twitter. Not sure where to look? Check the MLS app or the league website.
5. Not all the usual stars will be there.
We are less than a week away from the start of the tournament now, and we still aren’t sure which players will be playing. LAFC superstar Carlos Vela has still yet to decide if he’ll play in the tournament, and it’s kind of a big deal when you don’t know if the reigning MVP will be there or not.
And then there’s the entire issue of COVID-19. Multiple players have tested positive already, and some might just not show up as a result. MLS says teams are not required to announce how many positive tests they have, so we may never know the exact number. But, thanks to the awesome reporters at The Athletic, we do know FC Dallas has already had six positive tests. It could turn into quite a mess.
6. The players will be kept in a bubble, similar to the NBA players.
Think a less-glamorous version of the NBA's plan to restart in Orlando. They are all staying at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. And the food should get better than what they are being served in the quarantine stage. Maybe. Hopefully.
7. You should get prepared and be involved!
The coolest guys you know – the hosts of the Mint City Soccer Show – already released their preview pod for the MLS is Back Tournament. It included what to watch for, our predictions for who will win it all and thinking of better names for the tournament than MLS is Back.
Once you are done listening, make sure to join the MCC group of the MLS is Back Bracket Challenge!
Will this tournament actually be played all the way through? Will it even kick off next week as planned? Who the hell knows?!? Welcome to life in 2020, when we simply cannot have nice things.
Let's hope we can all distract ourselves a bit with this tournament as the world tries to get back to some semblance of normal. We'll be discussing all the games in the MCC Slack too, so we hope to see you there.