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MLS unveils plans for return-to-play tournament

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Draw will take place on Thursday with games scheduled for July 8-Aug. 10.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

It took a little longer to finalize the details than had been expected, but MLS officially unveiled plans for its return-to-play tournament on Wednesday. Dubbed the “MLS Is Back Tournament”, the league’s 26 teams will compete in a World Cup-style format from July 8-Aug. 11 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.

Among the key details:

  • The teams will be drawn into six groups with five of those groups containing four teams and one containing six. That draw will be held on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. and will be live-streamed.
  • The Sounders, as reigning MLS Cup champions, will be one of six seeded teams, three of which will be made up of Western Conference teams. LAFC (2019 Supporters’ Shield) and Real Salt Lake (third-most points in West) will be the other seeded Western Conference teams.
  • After playing three group-stage games that will count toward the regular season, the top two teams from each group plus the four best third-place teams will advance to a Round of 16 that starts on July 25. The winner will get the Concacaf Champions League spot normally reserved for the non-Supporters’ Shield winning conference champion. Players will also be competing for a $1.1 million prize pool.
  • Teams are allowed to arrive in Florida as early as June 24, but as long as they are allowed to conduct full-team training in home markets aren’t required to be there until seven days before their first games. The Sounders are expected to be cleared for full team training within the next week and confirmed they’ll wait as long as they can before going to Florida.
  • All 54 games are being nationally televised with no overlap. Kickoff times are scheduled for 6 a.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. PT. Western Conference teams are expected to play exclusively in the later time slots.
  • All players, coaches and essential team personnel will undergo COVDID-19 testing immediately before and after they arrive in Florida. They’ll also be tested for antibodies, which show prior infections. During their first 14 days in Florida, they’ll continue to be tested every other day and then regularly, including before games, after that. MLS also expanded on its prevention protocols. Anyone falling into a high-risk category — such as Jordan Morris — will need specific clearance from the team’s chief medical officer. The Sounders indicated that Morris is planning to play.
  • Teams will be housed at the Swan and Dolphin Resort.

In addition to the tournament, MLS also made it official that the intention is to resume the regular season with a revised schedule and playoffs. Those details have not yet been finalized, but there have been reports that teams would only play in-conference games and that the playoffs would be expanded to include as many as 18 teams.