Let’s Try And Explain The ‘MLS Is Back’ Tournament, And Yes, That’s The Name

To be perfectly honest, I’m not doing well. (Thanks for asking.) Sports being gone for so long has stripped an important part of my identity. Now that COVID-19 infection rates are once again on the rise, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach that sports may be gone longer than anyone expects, and the return plans for American sports may be foiled by this horrible virus.

Even if they do come back, I have another full month to wait until the NBA and NHL return. What will I do in those 30 days? Cling to Soccer! This means that anyone who reads these humble articles will be inundated with more soccer than they could possibly stand! Hooray! With that, let’s segue into the return of Major League Soccer.

What is The “MLS is Back Tournament”?

First off, what a creative name! The executives couldn’t come up with anything else?

When the Tournament was first announced, I was extremely confused over the concept. The more I looked for clarification, the less I got. It took me over an hour to figure out exactly what was going on. Turns out the MLS isn’t the best at branding. Good thing for them, I’m here to help.

How is this tournament formatted?

This is the official MLS picture for the tournament and it isn’t cropped properly… Get it together MLS!

Unfortunately for us, the format of the tournament is not as simple as its name, nor the person who named it. All 26 MLS teams are heading down to Orlando (The Mecca of American Sports in the “New Normal”) to compete in the tournament. The teams are then split into 5 groups of 4 teams and 1 group of 6. The teams will then play 3 games each against others in their group. Each win constitutes 3 points, a tie is 1 point and a loss gets you 0 points. At the end of the three group games, the top two teams from each group of 4, and the top 3 teams from the group of 6 will move on to the round of 16. There will also be three wildcard teams who will make it to the round of 16. From there, it is single elimination until a champion is crowned.

Is this the whole season?

This is where I was the most confused. MLS has not made it clear, but there will be an abridged season after the tournament. The tournament is actually tied into the season as the points that teams win in the group stage will be the points they start off with when the regular season kicks off. This is a cool feature as a team that loses its first two group matches still has something to play for in the third match even if they can’t move on to the knockout stage.

Besides the points from group stages, is there anything else worth playing for?

Yes! The winner of the tournament will be granted an extra $1.1 million for their salary cap. Even better, the winner of the tournament gets an automatic qualification into the Concacaf Champions League. Concacaf is the soccer region the United States is grouped into (North America and most of Central America) and the Champions League is an annual competition held between the best teams in each Concacaf nations’ leagues. In the competition’s 58 year history, an MLS club has only won the title twice (D.C United in 1998, and Los Angeles Galaxy in 2000). Funny enough, Club America (located in Mexico) has won the competition 5 times more than doubling the amount of times and actual American club has lifted the trophy. Big oof.

That’s cool, Gator, but I didn’t watch soccer back then, why should I now?

I’ve got two words: March Madness. Every American loves participating in the annual experience of trying to correctly predict the NCAA basketball tournament. There’s nothing more exhilarating than picking the perfect bracket only for it to be ruined when 15 seed Lehigh led by C.J. McCollum beats 2 seed Duke in the first round. Unfortunately, that was stripped from the country by COVID. However, now we have something to fill the void! Gather your friends, make some friendly wagers, and fill out your MLS tournament bracket! Unfortunately, the MLS does not have an interactive bracket (as of yet), but I promise my loyal readers to have one available for print out at least four days before the tournament which begins on July 8, if the MLS doesn’t get their act together.

So there you have it, more soccer knowledge that you didn’t ask for. You’re welcome. At least you have the opportunity to participate with your friends in a bracket pool even if you’re not an MLS fan.

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