Major League Soccer returns to action this week with a month-long tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida after the regular season was halted on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All 26 teams were scheduled to compete in the MLS is Back tournament, but FC Dallas withdrew on Tuesday after 10 players had tested positive for coronavirus. Nashville SC withdrew on Thursday after nine players tested positive.
The 24 remaining teams will be divided into six groups and compete in the World Cup-style event. Each team will play three matches.
Here are the tournament groups:
GROUP A: Orlando City SC; Inter Miami CF; New York City FC; Philadelphia Union; Chicago Fire FC.
GROUP B: Seattle Sounders FC; Vancouver Whitecaps FC; San Jose Earthquakes.
GROUP C: Toronto FC; New England Revolution; Montreal Impact; D.C. United.
GROUP D: Real Salt Lake; Sporting Kansas City; Colorado Rapids; Minnesota United FC.
GROUP E: Atlanta United FC; FC Cincinnati; New York Red Bulls; Columbus Crew SC.
GROUP F: LAFC; LA Galaxy; Houston Dynamo; Portland Timbers FC.
The tournament is scheduled to kick off Wednesday at 8 p.m. when Orlando City SC faces Inter Miami CF (ESPN, ESPN Deportes). That was supposed to be followed by the Chicago Fire FC-Nashville SC match, but it was postponed after the Nashville players’ positive test results.
Group stage: July 8-23
The Revolution are scheduled to open play on Thursday at 8 p.m. against the Montreal Impact. They will play D.C. United on July 16 at 8 p.m. and Toronto FC on July 21 at 9 a.m.
The rest of the Group C schedule:
July 12: Toronto FC vs. D.C. United, 8 p.m.
July 15: Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC, 8 p.m.
July 21: Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United, 10:30 p.m.
After the group stage, the tournament moves on:
Knockout stage (Round of 16): July 25-28.
Quarterfinals: July 30-Aug. 1.
Semifinals: Aug. 5-6.
Final: Aug. 11.
All matches will be televised nationally on ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, FS1, or TUDN. All ESPN and ESPN2 matches also will be streamed live on the ESPN App. FOX/FS1 matches and TUDN matches will be streamed on the FOX Sports App and TUDN App, respectively. In addition, the 10 matches that are broadcast on TUDN exclusively in the US will be streamed in English on the @TUDN Twitter account.
The top two teams in each group, as well as the four best third-place teams, will advance to the knockout stage. From there, the 16 qualifying teams will be whittled down until a champion is decided in the tournament final on Aug. 11.
Games will be played at 9 a.m., 8 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. to avoid the scorching Florida heat and humidity. A total of seven matches will take place at 9 a.m., all of which will air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes in the US and on TSN in Canada.
The group stage will take place over 16 consecutive days. All clubs will have at least four full days between matches. Points accumulated in the group stage will count toward the regular-season standings. The winner of the elimination stage will qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. The tournament also will give players the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.
“It is a unique situation, however it’s an important competition,” Revolution sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena said before departing for Orlando last week. “These game count, in group play, for our regular-season record. We’re not in great position even though we’ve only played two games, so we think it’s vitally important. Our goal is to go out and try to win every game.”
The entire tournament will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. The teams will be lodged at the Swan and Dolphin hotels, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place. The hotels will have eight different security checkpoints as well as CCTV, according to ESPN. After July 29, the bubble will be contained entirely in the Swan, at which point there will be seven security checkpoints.
Outside of games and practices, teams will be confined to the hotel, with intermingling discouraged. Leaving the hotel for anything other than team- and/or league-approved events is prohibited for as long as that player’s team is in the tournament.
If anyone exits the bubble without authorization and attempts to reenter, that person will be subject to “enhanced testing” and a period in quarantine of 10 days. Players and staff must have written permission to leave the resort grounds, except in the case of a medical emergency.
Players, coaches,, and support staff will be tested every other day for two weeks after arriving in Florida. Those individuals, as well as referees, will then be tested regularly, including before each match.
The Revolution went 0-1-1 to open the season before it was halted, including a season-opening loss to Montreal. Captain Carles Gil, the 2019 MLS newcomer of the year, missed both games because of a foot injury but is ready for action. He’ll be joined by fellow Designated Players Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa.
Rookie Henry Kessler played well in the team’s first two games after a strong preseason. Goalkeeper Matt Turner will look to repeat his performance from the second half of last season when the Revolution surged to make the playoffs.
The Revolution will host drive-in watch parties on the Gillette Stadium field for the team’s matches. Fans will park on the stadium field and be able to view the game on the north and south end zone video boards in a socially distanced environment. Tickets are $40 per vehicle, and the proceeds will benefit the United Negro College Fund’s (UNCF) Virtual Walk for Education, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Boston Branch, and Special Olympics Massachusetts.
▪ The Columbus Crew and Minnesota United agreed to cancel their friendlies scheduled for Sunday after one player on each team tested positive for coronavirus. Both squads decided to play intrasquad scrimmages instead.
▪ Reigning MVP Carlos Vela announced that he would not play. The LAFC forward cited his concern for the health of his family, including his pregnant wife, Saioa.
▪ Minnesota United defender Ike Opara, the reigning MLS defender of the year, didn’t travel with the team to Orlando due to an undisclosed injury.
(1/2) Before it’s reported elsewhere, I want to let the fans know that I am currently not in Orlando with my teammates. I am continuing my physical rehabilitation on a preexisting condition that was agreed upon between the league and MNUFC. I’m sad I’m not there with my guys— Ike Opara (@ikeopara) July 2, 2020
▪ LA Galaxy team captain Jonathan dos Santos will miss the tournament after he had a hernia operation last week. The midfielder is expected to be sidelined for six weeks.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.