What to Expect From the MLS's July 8th Return
On July 8th, the MLS will return to play with a 26 team tournament, with Nashville SC vs Chicago Fire being the second game of the return. The tournament will take place in Orlando and is a world cup style, knockout tournament that counts towards the regular season.
Teams are split in to 4 groups within the Eastern and Western Conference. Nashville SC has been moved to the East for the remainder of the season to help balance out the groups. Each group consists of 4 teams except Group A, which consists of 6 teams, including Nashville.
Each team will be guaranteed 3 matches and they will play teams within their own group. The top 2 teams from each group of four and the top 3 teams from Group A will advance to the knockout round. Additionally, the next 3 highest ranked teams after the top 2 from each group will advance to the knockout round.
The games will take place at 8:00 AM CT, 7:00 PM CT, and 9:30 PM CT, in an effort to avoid the heat and humidity of Orlando. All matches will be televised on ESPN, TUDN, FS1, or Fox in the U.S. Nashville SC's matches will be televised on ESPN, TUDN, and ESPN respectively.
The Tournament spans from July 8th to August 11th and afterwards, the MLS intends to continue the season in team's home markets. Teams began arriving in Orlando as soon as June 24th. The winning team of the tournament wins a $1.1m prize pool to split among players and a berth into the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
In preparation, players have been training in home cities since May 10th. Individual and small group workouts took place for about a month until the league allowed full-team training on June 4th. The small group training included players split up on different parts of the field and training with each other from a distance.
The Health and Safety is the league's top concern, rightfully so. The league has many protocols in place to ensure the health of players, coaches, and staff. This includes a test prior to traveling to Orlando, two tests within 24 hours of arriving in Orlando, two tests per week during the tournament, and frequent temperature checks. The league also requires the coaches to socially distance on the bench and everyone to wear a mask. There is also mandatory contract tracing and limited media throughout the tournament.
If a player tests positive, it is handled differently depending on when the positive test occurs. The most likely path of action includes the player quarantining in a dedicated part of the MLS players' hotel until they no longer have symptoms for a certain amount of time or until they have two negative PCR tests within 24 hours. Hospitalization is also a possibility and that decision will be made by a health expert on site.
6/28/20 Update: 18 Players and 6 coaches out of 668 people have tested positive prior to the trip to Orlando
The MLS's plan is extremely similar to that of the European soccer leagues such as the Premiere League and Bundesliga. This tournament will look quite similar to the return of European Soccer and there will likely be some unforeseen issues such as injuries and fatigue among players.
I will preview the return of Nashville SC and their chances in the tournament later this week.