New York (AFP) – Major League Soccer plans to return from its coronavirus pandemic shutdown with a 26-team tournament without spectators starting July 8 at Orlando, Florida, the league announced Wednesday.
The MLS Is Back Tournament, which runs through August 11, will feature group-stage matches that will count in the North American league’s regular season, which was halted after two weeks due to the deadly virus outbreak in March.
The event, which will include 16 consecutive match days in the group round, will be staged at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando and feature extensive medical protocols for players, including COVID-19 tests on the day before each match.
“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said.
“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.”
Garber also said MLS plans to address racial inequality issues in the wake of the recent death of George Floyd and the protests that have followed.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Teams will begin arriving in Orlando as soon as June 24 for pre-season workouts, with clubs able to arrive no later than seven days before their opening match.
The World Cup-style format will see a continuous schedule of matches almost every day with games kicking off at 9:00 am, 8:00 pm and 10:30 pm and each club playing three group stage matches.
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