Major League Soccer confirmed to resume season at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin

Jun 10, 2020 in "ESPN Wide World of Sports"

MLS is back tournament
Posted: Wednesday June 10, 2020 9:23am ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

Major League Soccer today announced the league’s plan to restart the 2020 season with all 26 MLS clubs competing in the MLS is Back Tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida beginning July 8.

“Sports have the power to unify and inspire, particularly during challenging times,” said Josh D’Amaro, chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “And we’re looking forward to bringing this exciting sport back to millions of fans, while prioritizing the health and well-being of the players, coaches and support staff as well as our cast members.”

According to MLS, players will be staying at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, which will be providing enhanced cleaning of all venues and enforcing appropriate capacity-management and other social distancing guidelines.

The tournament, which will be played without fans in attendance, allows the league to resume its 25th season. Group stage matches will count in the MLS regular season standings and the tournament winner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.

“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “The opportunity to have all 26 clubs in a controlled environment enables us to help protect the health of our players, coaches and staff as we return to play. We also recognize that the death of George Floyd and others has focused our country on issues of racial injustice, inequality and violence against black men and women. Together with our owners, players and staff, the League and its Clubs are deeply committed to creating meaningful and impactful programs to address these issues that have plagued our society for far too long.”

Major League Soccer has a longstanding relationship with ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The league held its 1998 preseason at the complex, and hosted events for the 1998 and 2019 MLS All-Star Games at the facilities.


Clubs will begin arriving in Orlando as early as June 24 for preseason training. Clubs that can conduct full team training in their markets pursuant to the league’s medical and testing protocols must arrive no later than seven days before their first match.

Similar to a FIFA World Cup format, the tournament will feature a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day, with games beginning at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. EDT. The vast majority of the matches will be played in the evening. Each team will play three group stage matches, and those results will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings. After 16 consecutive days of group stage matches, the top two teams from each group along with the four best third-place finishers will move on to the knockout stage. The knockout stage will include a Round-of-16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and the Championship match will take place on August 11. Matches tied at the end of regulation in the knock-out phase will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout. Click HERE for the MLS is Back Tournament Competition Guidelines.

MLS worked with U.S. Soccer, Canada Soccer and Concacaf to institute a one-time change to MLS berths to the annual Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League. The MLS is Back Tournamentwinner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, regardless of whether it is a U.S. or Canadian club. The winner would replace the berth previously awarded to the MLS regular season points leader in the conference opposite of the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winner.

In addition to matches that count in the regular season standings and the Champions League berth, players will have the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.

The substitution limit for the tournament will follow the new protocol set by the IFAB and allow five substitutions per match. In addition, teams may name up to 23 players on each official match day roster. Also, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) will have access to video review for all games.

For the MLS is Back Tournament, the 26 MLS teams will be drawn into one of six groups during a live draw that will take place tomorrow, Thursday, June 11 at 3:30 p.m. EDT. For the remainder of the 2020 MLS season, Nashville SC will be moved to the Eastern Conference. The Eastern Conference will have three groups, one consisting of six teams and two consisting of four teams each. The Western Conference will have three groups, each consisting of four teams.

As the host club, Orlando City SC will be given the top seed in Group A, which will be the six-team group, and will play in the first match on July 8. The five remaining seeds will consist of the four semifinalists from the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs – Atlanta United, Los Angeles Football Club, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC – and Real Salt Lake (the team with the next highest points total in the Western Conference from the 2019 season). The seeded teams will be drawn into their respective groups first and then the remaining 20 clubs will be drawn and distributed across the conference-based groups.

In addition, the tournament schedule, national television partner networks, and other important details for the MLS is Back Tournament will be provided soon.

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 25thMLS Cup. The final number of matches and the schedule for the remainder of the 2020 MLS regular season will be announced in the coming weeks.

The MLS medical department and the league’s infectious disease experts have developed a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan which will be implemented for the entire MLS is Back Tournament. An overview of health, safety and medical protocols can be found HERE. In addition, MLS will make a contribution of serology (antibody) tests to Central Florida residents beginning June 18.


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

MLS IS BACK TOURNAMENT– July 8 – August 11

  • Number of Matches: 54 (39 group; 15 knockout)
  • No. of matchdays: 26
  • Format: Group Stage, followed by Round-of-16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals & Championship match
  • Minimum Matches: 3 (per club)
  • Maximum Matches: 7 (per club)
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MisterPenguinAug 17, 2020

Now that they've left the bubble...

21stampsAug 13, 2020

We don’t have that problem in Cincinnati. Our new stadium isn’t even completed and already majority sold out. It’s a good and bad thing.. I didn’t choose my season tickets for next year fast enough, and then got stuck with seat options that I didn’t want. I’m hoping to just buy individual games from season ticket holders who either can’t make a game, or bought extra tickets to make a profit, as long as it’s a reasonable one. 🤣 It’s going to be something amazing 🔸🔹

_calebAug 13, 2020

As with the Disney parks, they only make money if fans turn out. Guess we’ll find out soon enough!

21stampsAug 12, 2020

I loved it, but looking forward for the games to go back to the team stadiums. Their local areas benefit from the revenue of match days.

21stampsAug 12, 2020

Oddly enough, the games (or at least most) weren’t on ESPN+ I think that hurt too. The timing was perfect with the Champions League... my only complaint is the odd schedules and channels, especially the night time games, though I understand some of the game times.. overall I loved it!

DCBakerAug 12, 2020

_calebAug 12, 2020

Go TIMBERS! I loved the MLSisBack Tournament and really appreciated the bubble tournament approach. I’m glad Disney was able to host the event, and I hope there are more partnerships in the future!

DCBakerAug 12, 2020

_calebAug 09, 2020

There are lots of reasons for the steady viewership (rather than the hoped-for boost). I think one of them was having some games on ESPN, others on FS1, and others on TUDN and/or Twitter. It was hard to find the games. Also, the morning game times weren’t the best. Why not keep tinkering with the bubble format rather than abandoning it for what we know is a more risky approach? A full season, played in rounds, with each round in a bubble (anywhere that can host, increasing regional ad revenues). Host them all on one network, but with commentators from each market calling the game.

gerararAug 09, 2020

The tournament as a whole was not really successful. The amount of viewers remained the same as normal MLS games pre-Covid. It didn’t boost the league’s viewership or ratings as it was first imagined and pitched when MLS would be the first major American Sports League to resume. The bubble format IS successful, and the proof is with the NBA and MLS tourney. If there’s strict protocols and precautions in place, it can be done. It’s just a shame that it didn’t generate the viewers and $ the league was expecting and too costly in the end. Us fans love the format of this tourney and hope it would become an annual thing — with location tbd of course.

_calebAug 09, 2020

Yeah, I didn’t mean to paint the bubble tournament approach as an ideal scenario. It’s surely been difficult for the players and their families. I’d be interested to see how costs compared between bubble and local markets. I know these teams’ primary revenue stream is ticket sales, but surely there is a lesson to learn from MLB.

Ben_since_1971Aug 09, 2020

I am sure they would love to, but it would cost money they just don’t have. A lot cheaper to have players staying in their own homes. Also add in the additional time away from family for the duration of a regular season as is being talked about. At least with NBA and NHL, you want to stay as long as possible. With MLS, what incentive do teams at the bottom of the table have to compete when they know they are playing out the string in the bubble? At least in local markets those players can go home.

_calebAug 09, 2020

It’s a shame, really. MLS proved that the bubble tournament format can work really well. Why not stick with this approach? They could adapt and adjust a bit—maybe have regional commentators calling the “home” games, a better approach to virtual fans, and move the bubble to a different location? It just seems strange that they’d go the route of MLB—we see how that’s working out so far.

MisterPenguinAug 09, 2020