The 2020 MLS season is about to resume, but things are going to be a bit different than usual.
When the season was suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, each of the 26 MLS teams had played two league matches over the first two weeks of the campaign.
However, rather than just pick up with regular-season contests, the league will return with the MLS is Back Tournament, which is set to be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World in Orlando, Florida and starts Wednesday.
It's possible the schedule could change as necessary, though. For example, Thursday's match between FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps was postponed to a later date after FC Dallas had nine players and one coach test positive for COVID-19, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Carlisle.
Assuming everything goes to plan and the tournament is completed, it should be an exciting way for MLS to return to action. Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming tournament.
MLS Is Back Tournament Schedule
July 8-23: Group stage
July 25-28: Round of 16
July 30-Aug. 1: Quarterfinals
Aug. 5-6: Semifinals
Aug. 11: Final
Tournament Groups and Format
Group A: Orlando City SC, Inter Miami CF, New York City FC, Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire FC, Nashville SC
Group B: Seattle Sounders FC, FC Dallas, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, San Jose Earthquakes
Group C: Toronto FC, New England Revolution, Montreal Impact, D.C. United
Group D: Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, Colorado Rapids, Minnesota United FC
Group E: Atlanta United FC, FC Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew SC
Group F: Los Angeles FC, LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo, Portland Timbers
Groups A, C and E are composed of the teams in the Western Conference, while the Eastern Conference teams were put into Groups B, D and F.
While five groups have four teams—meaning each team will play one game against each of the other three teams in its group—Group A teams won't play every team in their group, as they'll each still play only three games during the group stage.
After the group stage, 16 teams will advance to the knockout rounds of the tournament—the top three teams from Group A, the top two teams from the other five groups and the three best teams among the ones that finish third in their group (or fourth in Group A).
Tiebreakers are in place to determine the 16 teams for the knockout stage, where games that are tied after regulation will be decided by penalty kicks with no extra time played.
The games in the group stage will count toward the MLS regular-season standings. The winner of the tournament will earn a berth in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
Once the tournament is complete, MLS will go on to resume the regular season with a revised schedule and follow that with the playoffs and MLS Cup as usual.
Wednesday Schedule and Odds
Orlando City SC (+210; bet $100 to win $210) vs. Inter Miami CF (+130), 8 p.m. ET; Odds for draw at +240
Nashville SC (+320) vs. Chicago Fire FC (-120; bet $120 to win $100), 10:30 p.m. ET; Odds for draw at +275
Odds courtesy of Caesars Palace
Tournament Odds and Predictions
According to Roger Gonzalez of CBS Sports, Los Angeles FC is the favorite to win the MLS is Back Tournament with +450 odds. And that shouldn't come as a surprise.
Last season, Los Angeles FC won the Supporters' Shield for finishing the regular season with the best record, as it went 21-4-9 in its second year in MLS. Carlos Vela led the team with 34 goals, which earned him the MLS Golden Boot and the MLS MVP Award, but he's "leaning toward not participating" in the tournament, according to Carlisle.
Despite having an impressive 2019 season, Los Angeles FC didn't fare as well in the MLS playoffs. After beating Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinals, it went on to lose to the Seattle Sounders in the conference finals.
It will certainly hurt Los Angeles FC to not have Vela on the field, but it should still be one of the better teams in the tournament and make a strong run without him.
Toronto FC (+1200), Atlanta United (+1000) and the Seattle Sounders (+800) have won the past three MLS Cups in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively, and they should be among the top contenders to win this tournament.
Any of these teams could win the competition, which will have only 54 total games and follows a long layoff. Plus, it could depend on which teams don't lose their top players, either to positive COVID-19 tests or by them opting not to play in the tournament.
While a large number of outcomes are possible, the prediction here is that the Seattle Sounders follow up their MLS Cup victory from last season by winning the MLS is Back Tournament.
Although Seattle lost three of its four starters on defense since winning the MLS Cup, its offense should generate plenty of scoring chances, and by capitalizing on enough, it should take down its competition. Raul Ruidiaz (15 goals) and Jordan Morris (13) led the team in scoring last season, and they should lead the way again when the Sounders are back in action.
Seattle should easily advance out of Group B, and don't be surprised to see it gain momentum and make a run to win the tournament.