MLS to return in July post COVID-19 hiatus

Major League Soccer (MLS) teams will take to the field in official competition beginning on July 8, the league has said.

After play was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, the MLS will return in a unique tournament format at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, reports Xinhua news agency.

The tournament, which is billed as the “MLS is Back” and will be played without fans, is scheduled to start on July 8 with a group stage involving all 26 clubs in six groups. One group will include six teams, and the remaining five will include four teams apiece.

“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,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber.

The six No. 1 seeds include Orlando City SC, the host team that will be placed in the six-team group, the four semifinalists from the 2019 playoffs, Atlanta United, Los Angeles FC, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC, along with Real Salt Lake which had the next-highest points total in the Western Conference from the 2019 season.

The draw for the tournament will be held on Thursday.

After the group stage, four rounds of knockout play featuring the top two clubs from each group and four best third place finishers will follow. The final will be played on August 11 and the winner of the tournament will earn the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League spot.

Upon the completion of the tournament, the MLS plans to continue its regular season followed by playoffs, but exact dates are still to be determined, the league said.