The American soccer league was gearing up for its 2020 season when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The virus forced the league to postpone its season until further notice and then, later, to try to brainstorm alternative ways of holding at least part of its season.
Now, the league has come up with a plan: beginning July 8 and through August 11, all 26 teams in the league will compete in a tournament — the MLS Is Back Tournament — at the Walt Disney World sports facility. The teams will compete in a series of 54 matches, during which there will be at least one nearly every day.
The winner of the tournament will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.
The tournament’s games will count toward the MLS’ regular-season standings. Further, according to Major League Soccer’s website, the league’s season will continue after the tournament. It remains unclear, as of this writing, how, when, or where the remainder of the season will be played.
In hosting the tournament at the Walt Disney World sports facility, the league is able to contain the players, coaches, and support staff in one location, thus limiting their exposure to other people, in order to keep a lid on anyone potentially spreading the coronavirus.
That means that the games will be played without fans present. Further, players and staff will follow safety protocols throughout the tournament, including regular testing.
“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,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber in a statement.
This is not the first time that Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has hosted MLS events. The complex hosted the league’s 1998 preseason, and events associated with the league’s 1998 and 2019 MLS All-Star Games also took place there.
Wednesday’s announcement marks the second major professional sports league to announce that part of its season will be played at the Orlando-area sports facility. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, the NBA, which was wrapping up its season when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, has announced a plan to conclude a modified version of its regular season and then carry out its post-season at the complex.