MLS

Impact, Whitecaps to begin MLS tournament campaign July 9, one day ahead of TFC

The World Cup-style 54-match tournament opens July 8 with Orlando City SC facing state rival Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC taking on Chicago Fire FC.

World Cup-style competition set for Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando area

The Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps will kick off their MLS is Back journeys on July 9 against New England and Dallas respectively. One day later, Toronto FC will face D.C. United. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps will be the first Canadian teams out of the blocks at the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida.

And the good news for both is they each avoid the unwelcome 9 a.m. ET start in their three group games at Disney's Wide World of Sports in the Orlando area. Toronto FC will have one early-morning start, which coach Greg Vanney has said will require a 5:30 a.m. pre-game meal and meeting.

Games are scheduled for 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. in a bid to escape the Florida heat.

The World Cup-style 54-match tournament opens July 8 with Orlando City SC facing state rival Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC taking on Chicago Fire FC.

The Impact and Whitecaps play the next day with Montreal facing New England (Group C) and Vancouver taking on FC Dallas (Group B) at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. ET, respectively.

Toronto (also in Group C) begins play July 10 against D.C. United in an 8 p.m. start.

Montreal and Toronto face off July 15 in an 8 p.m. game with the Whitecaps playing San Jose in a 10:30 p.m. nightcap.

WATCH | Details of MLS' resumption plan:

All 26 teams will take part in a tournament to be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in the Orlando area beginning July 8. 1:37

Vancouver wraps up its group play on July 20 against the defending MLS champion Seattle Sounders in a 10:30 p.m. start. Toronto has an early 9 a.m. game July 21 against the New England Revolution.

The three group games count in the MLS regular-season standings. Clubs have to arrive in Florida no later than one week before their first match, with the Canadian teams saying they will train in their home markets for as long as possible in advance.

The San Jose Earthquakes, who had yet to start full team training at home, left Wednesday for Florida, the first team to arrive.

Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos said his team plans to arrive July 1.

Florida's COVID rate reaches new high

On Wednesday, Florida's Department of Health confirmed 5,508 additional cases of COVID-19, setting another daily record high since the start of the pandemic. South Florida, rather than central Florida where the MLS tournament is taking place, remains the hot spot.

"The numbers are real and you're not lying. It's not a rumour. It's out there and it's real," Dos Santos said Wednesday when asked about the Florida figures. "Right now it looks like everything's going forward."

As for the Florida heat in July, Dos Santos said it will be hot whatever the kickoff time. But he said the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoffs would be welcome for the fans back home who will be watching in prime time.

In addition to the heat, Dos Santos said players will have to deal with thunderstorms. The tournament will be all about adapting and mind set, he added.

"What we are going to have to do very well, though, is prepare the players to live a different type of life, when it comes to sleeping until later, having a later breakfast, a later lunch, a later pre-game meal Their life changes when you play at 10:30 (p.m.). Most of our training sessions are also going to be at night, so that's going to be a kind of change for all of us."

Tournament format

The 26 teams are a split into six groups — five with four teams and one with six teams — with the league announcing a tweak to the qualification process for the knockout rounds.

The top three finishers in the six-team Group A will advance to the knockout rounds. They will be joined by the top two teams from the other groups plus the next three highest-ranked teams in the group stage based on points total.

The fourth-placed team in Group A will be eligible to advance.

Previously, the rules stated that the top two in each of the six groups plus the four-best third-place finishers advance to the knockout round of 16, which starts July 25 and runs through the Aug. 11 final.

The tournament, which will be played before empty stands, marks a resumption to the league's 25th season, which was halted March 12 after two rounds due to the pandemic.

The hope is the league, once the Florida tournament is completed, can continue the regular season with a revised schedule in home markets.

In addition to the regular-season points in the group stage, the teams are competing for $1.1 million US in prize money and a CONCACAF Champions League berth.

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