Major League Soccer managed to play two weeks of its 2020 season before the coronavirus pandemic suspended play. Now, the MLS is back — with the aptly named MLS is Back Tournament — but it’s been beset by some major issues.
The league’s return to action began Wednesday in Florida with a prime-time match between Orlando City and Inter Miami.
D.C. United, meanwhile, will not make its debut until Sunday.
United’s first match of the tournament against Toronto FC, originally scheduled for Friday, was postponed to Sunday at 9 a.m. because of Toronto’s late arrival to the league’s “bubble” at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Toronto was supposed to depart on Friday, but additional testing meant the club didn’t arrive until Monday.
Sunday morning’s game will be nationally televised on ESPN2. It will be D.C. United’s first competitive match since March 7.
FC Dallas withdrew from the tournament on Monday after 10 players and a coach tested positive for the virus. On Tuesday, Nashville SC’s status was thrown into doubt with five confirmed positive tests.
LAFC captain and reigning league MVP Carlos Vela opted out of the tournament, choosing to remain home with his pregnant wife and their young son.
“We knew when we created this tournament that we would experience some impact of some of the coronavirus,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the Associated Press. “We’re all learning to live with COVID-19 and to adapt to the pandemic and to ensure that we’re taking care of each other and taking care of ourselves and following the health and safety protocols as closely as possible. We also knew that when we launched this tournament, there would be an element of risk.”
“It’s a strange time, because on one hand you’re focused to get ready for this tournament, and get pumped up and get excited about it because the tournament sounds a lot of fun, World Cup-style,” Real Salt Lake veteran Kyle Beckerman said. “But then on the other hand you’re thinking, ‘Is this even going to happen?’ So there’s mixed emotions going on.”
The MLS is Back Tournament follows on the heels of the NWSL Challenge Cup for the return of women’s soccer. The Washington Spirit and seven other NWSL teams are set up in Utah for a tournament that runs through July 26. Washington’s final match of the preliminary round is this Sunday morning, coincidentally following D.C. United’s first.
The MLS is set up near Orlando, on the same Disney-owned sports campus that the NBA will use as a bubble through early October. NBA teams arrived at Disney World this week.
The 25 teams (following Dallas’ withdrawal) are divided into six groups for the preliminary round. Each team will play three group-stage games over 16 consecutive days. The results in the group stage will count toward the regular season. The winner of the final match on Aug. 11 will get a place in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League. The teams are playing for a $1.1 million prize pool.
After the event, there are no announced plans for how the MLS season will continue, if at all.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.
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