MLS is Back Tournament format: Your essential guide to the event

The return of MLS is only a few weeks away.

For the first time since play was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, MLS teams will take to the field in official competition beginning on July 8 for a unique tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World Resort in Florida.

So how will it work and what does it mean for the 2020 season? Here's everything you need to know about the MLS is Back Tournament:

Quick Facts

  • July 8 - August 11
  • 54 matches (39 group stage; 15 knockout round)
  • 26 matchdays
  • Format: Group Stage, Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Championship
  • Minimum Matches: Three per club
  • Maximum Matches: Seven per finalist

Key Dates

  • June 24: Teams begin arriving in Florida
  • July 8: MLS is Back Tournament group stage begins
  • July 25-28: Round of 16 begins
  • July 30- Aug. 1: Tournament Quarterfinals
  • August 5-6: Tournament Semifinals
  • August 11: MLS is Back Tournament Final

How will the tournament work?

Similar to a FIFA World Cup, the tournament will feature a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day, with games beginning at 9 am, 8 pm and 10:30 pm EST, with the majority of the matches to be played in the evening.

Group Stage:

  • The 26 teams will be split into six groups.
  • The Eastern Conference will have three groups, one of six teams and two with four teams each.
  • The Western Conference will have three groups, each consisting of four teams.
  • Each team will play three group stage matches over the course of 16 consecutive days.
  • The top two teams from each group along with the four best third-place finishers will move on to the knockout stage, beginning with the Round of 16.
  • Knockout round matches that finish tied at the end of regulation will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout.

Group Stage Tournament Draw:

  • draw for the tournament will take place on Thursday, June 11 at 2:30 p.m. CT to determine the placing of the 26 teams into six groups.
  • Nashville SC will be placed in the Eastern Conference and will remain in the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the 2020 season.
  • As the “host” team, Orlando City SC will be the top seed in the six-team group.
  • The four semifinalists from the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs – Atlanta United, Los Angeles Football Club, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC – will join Orlando as group seeds, along with Real Salt Lake (the next highest points total in the Western Conference from the 2019 season).
  • Full Group Stage Draw details

General competition rules

  • The substitution limit for the tournament will follow the new protocol set by the IFAB and allow five substitutions per match.
  • Teams will also be able to name a matchday roster featuring up to 23 players.
  • As is the case during regular MLS play, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) will have access to Video Review for all games.

What's at stake?

  • Regular Season points: Each of the 39 group-stage games will count for points toward the 2020 regular-season standings.
  • Concacaf Champions League spot: In a one-time change to MLS berths to the annual Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, the MLS is Back Tournament winner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, regardless of whether it is a U.S. or Canadian club. This berth replaces the one traditionally awarded to the regular-season conference leader that did not win the Supporters’ Shield.
  • Prize Money: In addition to matches that count in the regular-season standings and competing for bragging rights, the MLS is Back Tournament will give players the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.

What happens after the tournament?

  • Upon completion of the MLS is Back Tournament, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and the 25th MLS Cup.
  • The schedule will be developed at a later date.