MLS’s return to play has been inevitable for some time, but has never felt more real than today’s official announcement. From League release:
- Competition FormatThis Competition is an official MLS competition forming part of the 2020 MLS Season. The Competition consists of a Group Stage and Knockout Stage.
- Group Draw ProcedureMLS will conduct a group draw for the Competition (the “Group Draw”), whereby Clubs will be divided into 6 groups: 1 group of 6 teams and 5 groups of 4 teams.The Group Draw procedure will be as follows:
- The Eastern Conference will have 1 group of 6 teams and 2 groups of 4 teams
- Nashville will be included in the Eastern Conference for purposes of this Competition and the remainder of the 2020 MLS Season
- The Western Conference will have 3 groups of 4 teams.
- Orlando will be placed into Group A, Position 1 as the host of the Competition.
- The 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Semifinalists (Atlanta, LAFC, Seattle, Toronto) and Real Salt Lake (as the Club with the next highest points in 2019 Western Conference Regular Season) will be seeded in the top position of each Group.
- Clubs will then be drawn into Groups alternating by Conference one by one until all Groups are filled
Group A B C D E F Position Eastern Western Eastern Western Eastern Western 1 ORL LAFC/SEA/RSL ATL/TOR LAFC/SEA/RSL ATL/TOR LAFC/SEA/RSL 2 Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn 3 Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn 4 Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn Drawn 5 Drawn 6 Drawn
- Playing RulesAll matches in the Competition (each, a “Competition Match”) will be played in accordance with the 2020 MLS Competition Manual, with the following modifications:
- SubstitutionsThere will be an allowance of 5 substitutions per Competition Match under the following conditions:
- Each Club will have a maximum of 3 opportunities to make substitutions during a Competition Match.
- Substitutions may also be made at halftime and will not count toward one of the 3 opportunities.
- If both Clubs make a substitution at the same time, this will count as 1 of the 3 opportunities for each Club.
- Points SystemIn the Group Stage, Clubs will earn 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie and 0 points for a loss. For purposes of this Competition, only points earned in Competition Matches of the Group Stage will count towards each Club’s Competition Standings (i.e., the 2 Regular Season Matches already completed will not count).All Group Stage Competition Matches will count toward each Club’s 2020 MLS Regular Season standings as well as its Competition standings (e.g., 3 points for win, 1 point for tie, 0 points for loss).All Knockout Stage Competition Matches will not count toward each Club’s 2020 MLS Regular Season standings.
- Group StageIn the Group Stage, each Club will play 3 Competition Matches, for a total of 39 Competition Matches.While Clubs in Groups B through F will play each of their respective Group opponents once during this stage, Clubs in Group A will play 3 of the possible 5 Group opponents.
- Knockout Stage
- OverviewThe Knockout Stage consists of 4 rounds: (i) the Round of 16, (ii) Quarterfinals, (iii) Semifinals and (iv) the Final.Group winners, Group runners-up and the best 4 third-placed Clubs shall advance to the Knockout Stage.
- Advancement – Tie-breaking Procedures & 3rd Place MethodologyIf two or more Clubs finish the Group Stage with an equal number of points, the tiebreaking procedures pursuant to the 2020 MLS Competition Manual shall apply.The following procedure (in order of priority) will be used to determine which third-placed Clubs advance:
- Total number of points
- Goal differential
- Goals for
- Fewest Disciplinary Points
- Regulation Time DrawsAll Knockout Stage Competition Matches, including the Competition Final, that are tied through 90 minutes of regulation will go directly to 5 kicks from the penalty mark (and continue into sudden death kick from the penalty mark, if necessary) to determine a winner (i.e., no extra time).
- Match OfficialsEach Competition Match will be officiated in accordance with the 2020 MLS Competition Manual, including but not limited to the use of Video Review technology.
- Pre-Match Day, Pre-Match and Match Day Procedures
- Competition Match RosterA maximum of 23 eligible Players for each Club may be placed on the Club’s Official Match Roster for any Competition Match (“Competition Match Roster”).The Competition Match Roster includes the starting 11 Players and a maximum of 12 available substitutes, as well as a maximum of 9 bench personnel for a total of 32 Club Delegates on the bench. A Club Physician may be added as a 33rd Club Delegate on the bench.The Competition Match Roster must be submitted via the Digital Match Roster platform 75 minutes prior to kickoff, in accordance with the 2020 MLS Competition Manual. There will not be any hard copy rosters printed.
- Cooling and Drink BreaksWhile mandatory “cooling breaks” (maximum of 90 seconds) will be implemented in accordance with the current parameters of the 2020 MLS Competition Manual, Match Officials may also impose discretionary “drink breaks” (maximum of 60 seconds) as needed.
- Substitutes Warm-up RestrictionsA maximum of 6 substitutes per Club and 1 technical staff member will be allowed to warm up at any one time during a Competition Match. Once all substitutions have been made, all substitutes must be seated on their bench.
- Ball StandsBall Stands will be placed behind both goals for all Competition Matches in accordance with the 2020 MLS Competition Manual.
- DisciplineDisciplinary matters in the Competition shall be addressed in accordance with the 2020 MLS Competition Manual, with the following modifications:
- First 2 Matches of 2020 MLS Regular SeasonAll discipline received as a result of the first 2 matches of the 2020 MLS Regular Season (e.g., red card, 2nd yellow cards) will carry into the Competition.For example, if a Player received a red card in a Regular Season Match on March 7, 2020, such Player must serve his one-match suspension in the first Competition Match in the Group Stage.
- Group Stage DisciplineAll Group Stage discipline will be reset for the beginning of the Knockout Stage except for red cards (including 2nd yellow cards) and/or Disciplinary Committee action(s) which will carry into the Knockout Stage. There will not be a Yellow Card Accumulation Policy for the Knockout Stage.Notwithstanding the above, any Group Stage discipline (other than red cards or 2nd yellow cards) that has not been fully served prior to the conclusion of the Group Stage will be applied to the next 2020 MLS Regular Season Match(es) immediately following the completion of the Competition.If a Player receives a second yellow card in his final Group Stage match and the first yellow card in such match is also the Player’s 5th yellow card of the 2020 MLS Regular Season, the Player will be suspended for the first Knockout Stage Competition Match and his next 2020 MLS Regular Season Match immediately following the completion of the Competition.Pursuant to the 2020 MLS Competition Manual, the Good Behavior Incentive shall apply for all Group Stage Competition Matches.
- Knockout Stage DisciplineAll Knockout Stage discipline that has not been fully served prior to the conclusion of the Knockout Stage will not be applied to the next 2020 MLS Regular Season Match(es) immediately following the completion of the Competition except for red cards (including 2nd yellow cards) and/or Disciplinary Committee action(s) in any Player’s final Knockout Stage Competition Match which will carry into the 2020 MLS Regular Season.
Not many surprises here, with Nashville’s move to the East confirmed through the 2020 season – and seemingly likely to be permanent. With that move, Nashville is not automatically placed into the six-team group, which is a good thing. When half the teams from two groups and only a third from the other qualify automatically for the knockout stage, avoiding automatic placement into that latter group is a positive. With a handful of third-place teams advancing, it’s not damning, per se, but the uneven number of teams (thanks to the conferences each having a prime number of teams – no easy division into groups, hence NSC’s move) makes it inevitable.
As Daniel Lovitz noted last week, the members of Nashville’s roster have been taking this return-to-play very seriously, while some of his friends around the league… may not be able to say the same of their teams and teammates.
What are realistic expectations for the Boys in Gold for the tournament? Pending the outcome of the draw, it’s tough to say. The bar has certainly been set at a minimum of making it out of the group, however, with advancing in the knockout stages an attainable goal, too.