MLS confirms tournament format as league gears up for July return in Orlando

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Sounders MLS Cup 2019

MLS confirmed details of the league's much-discussed return on Wednesday as teams prepare for a return to play in July.

All 26 MLS clubs are set to participate in a tournament hosted at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando that will run from July 8 to August 11.

The competition will be formated to begin with a group stage, which will count towards an inevitable regular season, as well as a knockout stage for those that advance.

Whichever team comes out victorious from that knockout stage will seal a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2021 as well as additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.

The round of 16 will run from July 25-28 with the quarterfinals held between July 30-August 1. The two semifinal matches will be played on August 5 and 6 before a champion is crowned on August 11.

MLS' return comes as American sports gear up of for a return to play, with the NBA and NHL continuing to prepare for their eventual resurgence. MLB, meanwhile, remains locked in negotiations regarding player pay and season length.

It also comes amid ongoing nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd as the U.S. remains in a state of unrest currently.

"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," said MLS commissioner Don Garber. "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.

"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."

Similar to a World Cup, the group stage will feature matches every day throughout that portion of the competition, with three games a day beginning at 9am, 8 pm and 10:30pm EDT.

The live draw for the tournament is set to be held Thursday. The Eastern Conference will have three total groups, with one group being made up of six teams and two consisting of four teams each. The Western Conference, meanwhile, will have three groups, each consisting of four teams as expansion side Nashville SC will temporarily play in the East.

Hosts Orlando City will be treated as one seeded team with the five other seeds including the four semifinalists from last year's playoffs – Atlanta United, Los Angeles Football Club, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC – and Real Salt Lake, the team with the next-highest points total from the West.