MLS Minute: MLS is Back Tournament Explained

With leagues around the country struggling to find a path to return to normality, Major League Soccer has taken a different approach. Instead of returning to the league campaign, MLS has decided to host a World Cup-styled tournament in Orlando that will award the winner a place in next season’s Concacaf Champions League. All 26 teams will meet at the Walt Disney World Resort with games beginning July 8th.

Group Stage

In a 32-team World Cup, the top two teams from each group advance to the Round of 16. However, if you’re more familiar with Youth World Cups, you’ll know that a popular method of filling out the Round of 16 in a tournament beginning with less than 32 teams is to allow the third placed teams with the highest point totals to join the knockout stages. For example, if you finish third in your group, but earned a win and a draw in your three group games, you’ll likely advance.


Each group has four teams, with the exception of Group A, which has six teams. However, some teams in Group A will not play each other, as they are limited to three group stage games to match every other team.

The groups were randomly drawn, and look like this:

Group A: Orlando City (Hosts), Inter Miami, New York City FC, Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire, Nashville SC.

Group B: Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, Colorado Rapids, Minnesota United

Group C:  Toronto FC, New England Revolution, Montreal Impact, D.C. United.

Group D: Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas, Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes.

Group E: Atlanta United, FC Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew.

Group F: Los Angeles FC, Los Angeles Galaxy, Houston Dynamo, Portland Timbers.

Knockout Stages and Beyond

Following the completion of the group stage, the Round of 16 will begin and will play out like a FIFA World Cup, with single-game elimination. As previously mentioned, the winning team will be awarded a place in next season’s Concacaf Champions League, which should incentivize teams to field their best players every match, and not look at this tournament as just an opportunity to get players into fitness before the regular season returns.

Speaking of the regular season, MLS plans to continue their campaign with a revised schedule following the conclusion of the MLS is Back Tournament. The schedule is yet to be developed, but will allow for a 25th MLS Cup, asterisk or not.

Additional Information

Due to severe weather in Orlando in July and August, Major League Soccer had decided the three time slots for games on any given day include 9 am, 8 pm, and 10:30 pm. This allows the players to avoid playing under the brutal sun as they aim to get back to full fitness. The 9 am slot also allows fans across the Atlantic to get a look at MLS action if they please, with this time matching up from anywhere between 2-3 pm in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy.

Apart from the Concacaf Champions League spot you could win, MLS has decided that the group stage games will count toward your MLS regular season point total. Additionally, there will be prize money awarded, in case none of these other incentives hooked you in.

The tournament will allow each team to make five substitutes per match, and name a 23-man gameday roster. Typically in soccer, teams are allowed three substations, and an 18-man gameday roster.


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