MLS Is Back Tournament; an Explanation on What to Expect

By: Matt Watkins

Finally! Live, professional sports in the United States! We’ve isolated and been hoping for the moment long enough. I know a lot of people out there might be saying “but it’s soccer”, but when baseball is still at least two weeks away, the NBA won’t restart until the end of July, and football training camps are six weeks off, chances are you’ll tune in. We know you’ll tune in, at least a little, rather than watch another rerun of the Big Bang Theory or a cast reunion of a show that was cancelled 15 years ago doing a dramatic reading of a reimagined storyline.

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Here, in a nutshell, is what’s going down. All 26 MLS teams converge on Orlando for what is being named the MLS Is Back Tournament. The 26 teams have been separated into six groups, three in the Eastern Conference, three in the Western Conference. Now, for those of you who passed third grade math (and I mean real math, not this common core stuff), the first thing you notice is that 26 doesn’t divide into six even pools and that 13 teams on each side means one group in each conference would have five teams, while the others would have four.

In order to combat that problem, MLS shifted the league’s newest team, Nashville SC to the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the season. Group A, an Eastern group will have six teams, B, C, D, E, F will each have four.

Mar 7, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; An extra Adidas MLS official Match ball rests behind one goal net during the second half of the game between the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Remember the World Cup? The MLS is Back Tournament is a U.S. Version of the World Cup

As it happens in the World Cup (you guys remember what that is even though the USA spectacularly blew their opportunity to compete in it in 2018) each team will play the three others in its group in a round robin. Group A teams had a random draw to see which of the other teams in the group it would play, with the exception of Orlando City and Inter Miami, who, as the hosts, were guaranteed to play the first game of the tournament.  

The top three teams from Group A (which has six teams) and the top two teams from groups B-F advance to the knockout stage, along with the three teams with the most points that don’t finish in the top two in their group (think wild card teams in baseball). 

One important thing to remember: All ties in the final group stage standings are broken through goal differential and then if that’s tied through total goals scored, so teams should keep pressing forward and attacking, even late in the game. No one wants to be the club that thinks a +3 differential is safe and decides to pack the box in the 80th minute, only to have another club jump them for a knockout stage spot because of a stoppage time goal. 

The round of 16 has predetermined matchups as to what groups will play each other (ex: one game has B1 vs. A3, another has F1 vs. E2, etc.) The winners of those games play in the quarterfinals, quarterfinals winners to the semis. The semifinal winners then play for the MLS championship on August 11 at 8:00 p.m. EST.  

All 54 matches in the tournament will be aired nationally, via a variety of broadcast mediums. The primary platforms will be ESPN, Fox, and FS1 in the United States with several matches being carried on TUDN (formerly Univision Deportes). TUDN matches will also have an option for fans to stream the match on Twitter with an English language broadcast.  

Opening tap for the first game of the tournament is on Wednesday, July 8 at 8:00 p.m. between Orlando City (+260) and Inter Miami (-112).