MLS Orlando tournament format taking shape

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Major League Soccer’s planned mini-tournament in Orlando, Florida, this summer is poised to comprise of four groups, with the top two advancing to a knockout round.

According to ESPN and The Athletic, there will be three groups of six teams and one of eight, giving MLS’s 26 teams a minimum of five games each.

Two of the groups will consist of Eastern Conference teams, with Western Conference teams in the other two. Nashville SC will temporarily switch from West to East to provide a numerical balance.

The top seeds in each group will be Supporters Shield holders LAFC, reigning MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders, last year’s US Open Cup winners Atlanta United, and hometown team Orlando City. Group stage games will count in MLS regular-season standings but games in the knockout stages will not.

MLS is looking to stage this mini-tournament in June and July at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando as a means of returning to action amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The spectator-less event would require over 1,000 total participants – including players, coaches and support staff – who would live under quarantine and receive regular coronavirus health tests. It is hoped that there would be multiple games staged every day, which would be produced and broadcast in part by MLS’s domestic broadcast partner ESPN.

Players could be away from home for eight to 10 weeks, which has led to much discomfort among participants about the plan.

“I would start off by saying that I think every one of us agree that we want to get back to playing,” Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya told ESPN. “I want to get back out there, being competitive, [playing] games. The staff wants to be out there, fans want to be watching games, but I will say that this all feels a little bit rushed.

“I think that we all need to be partners in this, you know, ESPN and Disney, which owns ESPN, is just partnering with MLS to help the owners out and to show games. I think the players are taking all the risks by going down [to Orlando], being isolated, it’s a strong term to say, but it’s like being in a luxurious prison,” he said.

MLS is eager to salvage its season, which was postponed after the second round of games after the onset of the coronavirus crisis. In addition, the MLS All-Star Game, Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup have been called off. There also remains much doubt as to whether the US Open Cup and Concacaf Champions League will be able to take place.

MLS league-office staff have taken pay cuts while discussions are under way for players to take wage reductions as well.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently announced that the state is open to all professional sports teams in the United States who want to resume action amid the coronavirus crisis.