For the first time since match play was suspended March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Soccer action will resume July 8 with the historic and unprecedented MLS is Back Tournament. This one-of-a-kind competition will see all 26 clubs descend on ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, marking the emphatic return of men's professional soccer in the United States after a near four-month hiatus.
As the opening match approaches, SportingKC.com is presenting a 20-day preview of the World-Cup style tournament from June 18 through July 7 called Countdown to MLS is Back presented by Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center.
Sporting Kansas City will kick off their Group D campaign on July 12 against rivals Minnesota United FC before facing the Colorado Rapids on July 17 and Real Salt Lake on July 22, with all three games shown live nationally on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/MLSisBack.
Travel day has finally arrived for Sporting Kansas City.
After two months of individual workouts, small group training and full-team practice, Manager Peter Vermes' side will hop on a charter flight today and arrive in Orlando for the MLS is Back Tournament.
Sporting's traveling delegation—consisting of around 47 players, coaches, trainers and support staff—will spend anywhere from two and a half to five weeks at the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Walt Disney World, living in the proverbial "MLS bubble" and abiding by an extensive health and safety protocol.
So, what will life be like for individuals involved in the MLS is Back Tournament? SportingKC.com will provide plenty of behind-the-scenes updates in the days to come, but with several MLS clubs already in Orlando and a detailed agenda already set for Sporting, we've got a decent idea of how things will look.
Sporting will live in a bubble that encompasses the hotel grounds and playing fields at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. MLS players, coaches, trainers, referees and support staff will not be permitted to leave that bubble unless they have written permission or in the case of a medical emergency. Likewise, the bubble will be closed off to the general public, limiting access to club and league representatives as well as hotel workers. Entrance points to the bubble will be monitored by security. Each of these measures is being taken to stamp out the potential spread of COVID-19 within the bubble.
Individuals will be required to wear masks at all times, with the following exceptions: during meals, during training, engaged in outdoor activities or while in their personal hotel rooms.
Sporting will have their own wing of the hotel, which will include roughly 45 guest rooms, a suite for Vermes, meeting rooms and a lounge. Sporting's lounge will provide a place for players to enjoy video games, ping pong and card games.
In addition to training and playing games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, Sporting will have access to a performance center and a pool, for a period of two hours per day, for weight training and regen sessions.
Players can spend their free time in a variety of ways. Sporting will have access to beaches as well as a pool featuring tube slides and water volleyball. Other outdoor activities include ping pong, pool, bocce ball, giant Jenga, cornhole and more. Poolside movie nights will show popular films on a regular basis. Additionally, Sporting will enjoy a complimentary golf outing and fishing trip.
Sporting will have access to health and wellness resources including outdoor yoga, meditation and stretching and the MLS Employee Assistance Program, which offers mental health support.
COVID-19 testing is extensive. Individuals will be tested every other day, more or less, and will be quarantined in their hotel rooms upon arrival until their results come back negative. Anyone who tests positive will be isolated until they test negative and are cleared by medical personnel.
Teams will eat the vast majority of meals together as a team. Sporting will have its own dedicated meal room as well as access to a few of the hotel's restaurants. Individuals can also have food delivered to the hotel.
Sporting will train and play matches at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Most of the club's training sessions will take place in the morning, at either 8 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. Eastern. The first two group stage matches against Minnesota United FC and the Colorado Rapids will take place at 8 pm. local time, 7 p.m. CT. Sporting's Group D finale versus Real Salt Lake will commence at 9 a.m. local time, 8 a.m. CT, for the earliest kickoff in club history.