The details surrounding the proposed MLS "mini-tournament" in Orlando are coming into focus, with the league breaking the 26 teams into four groups and with the top two teams in each group advancing to a knockout round sources have confirmed ESPN.
The Athletic was the first to report the new details, with sources confirming that the situation remains fluid and that many details haven't been finalized. Both the league and the MLS Players Association (MLSPA) would also need to agree on the tournament's details in order for it to be played.
At one point, the plan for the league's teams was to head to Walt Disney World's Wide World of Sports some time during the first week in June, with the teams using much of that month to get back in game shape. (ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Co.) Games would then commence about a month later.
But sources told ESPN that with just 10 days remaining until a possible travel day for players and staff, there is a sense that it might be mid-June before all of the teams could arrive in Orlando. Once in Florida, the teams would be tested regularly and be quarantined.
Sources confirmed The Athletic's report that there would be three groups of six teams and a last group of eight, giving teams a minimum of five games each. The top two teams in each group which would advance to the knockout round. Supporters Shield holders LAFC, reigning MLS Cup champions the Seattle Sounders FC, last year's U.S. Open Cup winners Atlanta United FC, and hometown team Orlando City SC would hold the top seeds in each group. Toronto FC would also be a seeded team in the eight-team group. Nashville SC would take up residence in the Eastern Conference, accounting for the unbalanced groups. Group stage games would count in the league standings, but the knockout games wouldn't.
In terms of the league's plans for after the tournament, one possibility is to schedule 18 regular season games with only intra-conference matchups, with nine teams from each conference qualifying for the playoffs. Similar to the mini-tournament, Nashville would be in the Eastern Conference.
But the Orlando portion of the plan is meeting with resistance from the players, who are balking at being separated from families for upwards of 10 weeks while also existing in quarantine conditions, all while hotel staff will be able to come and go as the wish, creating a vulnerability within the MLS "bubble." At minimum, there are plenty of questions that will have to be answered before the players agree to head to Orlando.
"I would start off by saying that I think every one of us agree that we want to get back to playing," Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya told ESPN's Taylor Twellman. "I want to get back out there, being competitive, [playing] games. The staff wants to be out there, fans want to be watching games, but I will say that this all feels a little bit rushed."
Bedoya later added, "I think the players are taking all the risks by going down [to Orlando], being isolated, it's a strong term to say, but it's like being in a luxurious prison."
ESPN has previously reported that MLSPA has sent a counterproposal to the league regarding player salaries for the 2020 season, with the union confirming that the amount of economic relief would exceed $100 million.