A World Cup-style tournament is coming to Major League Soccer.
MLS will be the first major men's sports league in North America to return to game action since the COVID-19 pandemic put sports on pause beginning in March. The "MLS is Back Tournament", which includes all 26 teams, begins July 8 and will take place in Orlando. The tournament consists of a group stage, followed by knockout rounds culminating in a championship final. A total of 56 games will be played. When the tournament is over, the 2020 MLS regular season will resume.
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New England Revolution head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena joined "Arbella Early Edition" on Wednesday night to react to the tournament and other topics.
"We've been away for so long. We're pleased to be playing again," Arena said. "We know it will be difficult. The conditions will be very tough on the players, but despite that, we're real excited. We're guaranteed three games, and our goal is to get out of the group stage and get into the Round of 16, and hopefully keep moving forward from there.
"It'll be interesting. I think the format, the games being meaningful, will be very important to the staff and players of all the teams in the league. You're going to see some real competition. As I said, the conditions in Orlando this time of the year are pretty tough, so it'll be a real challenge for the team."
Being the first American sports league to return is a tremendous opportunity for the MLS to attract new fans and show the sports community the excitement of pro soccer in the United States.
"Getting back first is certainly going to catch a lot of eyeballs. We're excited by that," Arena said. "The support by Disney and ESPN is tremendous. I think all the games are going to be live on national television. Some interesting times, 9 a.m. ET and I believe 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. at night. We're capable of attracting audiences from all over the country and different parts of the world, so it should be a big plus for Major League Soccer."
Even though this tournament won't determine the MLS Cup winner, there's still plenty at stake, including regular season points, plenty of bonus money and a 2021 CONCACAF Champions League berth.
"There are big purses also for the winning teams as you advance in the tournament," Arena said. "I think the league said there's $1.1 million in bonus money for that. There's also a Champions League spot next year. "It's a real meaningful tournament for teams."
Aided by players returning from injury and the additions of new players acquired since the end of last season, Arena is confident the Revolution will be an improved squad and a dangerous team in this tournament.
"I think we're going to have a stronger team," Arena predicted. "Our individual group workouts went well, and when the guys reported for full team training, they had a pretty decent fitness level. We had three good training sessions to date, and we've got to keep carrying on. As of today, we have about four weeks before our first game. There's a lot of work to put in, I think we're going to have a stronger team than we had last year. We're excited about the opportunity to go to Orlando and show that the New England Revolution are going to have a good team this year."
The Revolution will find out their first few opponents Thursday when the MLS does the group stage draw for the tournament.