- The MLS is Back Tournament was announced on Wednesday and will take place from July 8 to August 11
- The Group Stage draw was made on Thursday and has pitted LAFC and LA Galaxy together in Group F
- See the tournament format and early odds for the top contenders below
As soccer leagues around the globe have been slowly returning to play the past few weeks, we now have a date for Major League Soccer’s return as well. That date is just under a month away and will be coming on July 8, running until August 11.
On Wednesday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced the league’s return to play format which includes a tournament and resumption of the regular season.
The short timeframe, for a league that had only played two weeks of their season prior to the coronavirus shutdown, is because the restart comes in the form of a World Cup-style tournament.
All 26 teams are joining the MLS is Back Tournament to be played in Orlando at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. The teams will be split into six groups for group stage play and will followed by a knockout round and championship.
While the initial plan was released on Wednesday, the group stage draw took place on Thursday afternoon and we now have odds for which teams have the best chance at winning the MLS is Back Tournament released.
Let’s take a look at further details for the tournament, plus the opening odds to win the event here.
MLS is Back Tournament Opening Odds
|Team||Pre-Draw Odds||Post-Draw Odds|
|New York Red Bulls||+1800||+1800|
|Sporting Kansas City||+1800||+1800|
|Real Salt Lake||+2200||+2200|
|San Jose Earthquakes||+2500||+2500|
|New England Revolution||+2800||+2800|
Odds taken June 12
The six groups have now been decided with top seeds in the groups being Orlando City (as hosts) plus the four semifinalists from the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs – Atlanta United, Los Angeles FC, Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC, plus Real Salt Lake who had the next highest points total in the Western Conference from the 2019 season.
Each team will play three group stage matches in their group, with the top two from each group, plus the four best third-place teams advancing to the knockout stage in the Round-of-16. Quarterfinals, Semifinals and a Final will ensue.
The grand prize for winning the MLS is Back Tournament is a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League and a share of a $1.1 million prize.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 10, 2020
Additionally, and this is where it starts to get a little different, group stage matches will count towards the MLS regular season. Yes. Not only is the MLS returning with this tournament, but at the conclusion of the event, the league will resume its regular season with an adjusted schedule.
For the purposes of this tournament and the season, expansion side Nashville SC have also been moved to the Eastern Conference. Eastern Conference Group A also features six teams compared to the four teams in every other group.
Thursday afternoon Major League Soccer announced the draw for the group stage and the groups have been divided as follows:
- Eastern Conference Group A: Orlando, Inter Miami, NYCFC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Nashville
- Western Conference Group B: Seattle, Dallas, Vancouver, San Jose
- Eastern Conference Group C: Toronto, New England, Montreal, DC
- Western Conference Group D: Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC, Colorado, Minnesota
- Eastern Conference Group E: Atlanta, Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls, Columbus
- Western Conference Group F: LAFC, LA Galaxy, Houston, Portland
54 matches. 26 teams. 6 groups. 1 champion.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 11, 2020
Overall there will be 54 matches (39 group stage and 15 knockout) over 26 matchdays. Find all the additional details on the MLS is Back Tournament online at the MLS website.
Counting down the days 'til 𝗝𝘂𝗹𝘆 𝟴…
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 10, 2020
Western Conference Contenders and the Group of Death
You couldn’t have watched Charlie Davies pulling those balls out of an egg carton and not immediately zero in on Group F. The group features both LA-based teams, LAFC and the LA Galaxy, plus the Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers. LAFC were Supporters’ Shield champs last season and the Galaxy and Timbers each made the playoffs as well. LAFC opened as +400 favorites to win the tournament on Wednesday but lengthened slightly to +450 after the draw.
The Galaxy reached the Western Conference Semifinals and Portland were MLS Cup finalists in 2018 and champions in 2015. And while the Dynamo failed to make the playoffs last year, they still have plenty of firepower which could cause an upset in a short tournament-style format.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) June 11, 2020
It’s a term often used in the World Cup, but can be used here as well. Group F is the Group of Death in my opinion. One would assume LAFC should make it out of the group, but after that it could be anyone’s guess. Betting on a favorite to win the tournament from this group may not be the best bet.
Staying in the West, Sporting Kansas City saw their offseason odds to win MLS Cup drastically shorten earlier this year from 80-1 to 25-1. They came out of the gates flying winning both of their opening matches and scoring seven goals, while only conceding once. I think Peter Vermes’ side definitely offers value in Group D at 18-1 odds. It’s interesting to note though that each of SKC, Colorado and Minnesota started the year 2-0-0, while RSL drew both of their opening matches, meaning all these teams are undefeated in 2020. The Loons were one of very few teams who saw their odds adjust from pre-draw to post-draw, shortening from +1500 to +1200.
It's on, Group D. ⚔️
— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) June 11, 2020
When it comes to Group B, Seattle has to be considered heavy favorites to win the group and make a deep run. They had a wild playoff against Dallas last fall, but neither Vancouver or San Jose were playoff teams in 2019. The Sounders are also very experienced in tournaments and playoffs.
From the one group of six in Group A, it has to be NYCFC and Philadelphia as the teams expected to directly advance, despite Orlando holding the “home” advantage. Since all these teams won’t play each other, NYCFC will play Orlando, Philly and Chicago, which is certainly a path that should see them advance. Though advancing through this deeper group surely could present some additional challenges. Interestingly, the Fire gained some confidence from bookmakers as they were adjusted from +4000 to +3300 after the draw.
Looking at the remaining Eastern Conference Groups C and E, I like Toronto and Columbus. Both teams started 2020 strong undefeated at 1-1-0 and Toronto are a tournament-hardened side having reached MLS Cup in three of four years. The layoff should also benefit them in that both Michael Bradley and Pablo Piatti have had time to recover from injuries.
Similar to SKC mentioned earlier, the Columbus Crew saw plenty of offseason wagering activity, shortening their MLS Cup odds from +8000 in January to +2500 in March. Their opponents in Group E, the Red Bulls, were transitioning this season, FC Cincinnati were the league’s bottom side in 2019 and Atlanta, while definitely in the mix, are without star frontman Josef Martinez due to an ACL injury. I would not be surprised to see Columbus make a deep run in this event.