The San Jose Earthquakes are here, in orlando as they came into town on Wednesday night at Orlando International Airport. Suddenly this is real. The MLS Is Back tournament is going to happen.
The full league tournament happening at Disney’s Wide World of Sports is set to begin in two weeks is real. The teams will enter the now famous Disney “Bubble” and set up at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort and train at the sports complex on property.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Florida, the MLS, along with the NBA, are counting on isolating the teams as much as possible as key to keep the cases down and get the league going and get some action on the pitch.
Orlando City has been training at their complex in nearby Kissimmee, FL, and for head coach Oscar Pareja, the return of soccer couldn’t come soon enough.
“There’s a lot of joy around the players and coaches,” Pareja said. “We’re feeling that we’re near to the competition and looking forward to get there to Disney, to the hotel and to start just training more toward the competition. That’s what excites us the most.”
The Lions are scheduled to join the other teams in the bubble on Thursday and it will begin its final stage of training before its first match. Orlando City will be facing the brand new Inter Miami squad.
Florida is hitting highest ever cases f the corona virus, with 5,000-plus new cases per day. As testing has continued to ramp up. Orlando’s NWSL team, the Orlando Pride, withdrew from the league’s Challenge Cup in Utah because of 10 positive or inconclusive tests on players and staff testing positive for the virus.
But Pareja said he feels MLS is creating a safe space for players and teams.
“I’m very strong on our position to play and keep going,” Pareja said. “It’s not a perfect moment for the world, but we need to find positive news and positive things. At this moment in Florida, it’s not easy, but I think we will make sure that we follow the protocols and it will be a good experience for people to see by TV their teams playing. We can bring joy to them.”
A big need for sports to start in these “Bubbles”, is testing. Daily testing. The leagues purchased their tests privately and the MLS is donating tests to assure it doesn’t deplete the local inventory and the NBA also has pledged to not add strain anywhere it operates.
Players that test positive will be isolated immediately for both the MLS and NBA. Players or staff that test negative for the virus must test negative before resuming work or play.
To keep the “Bubble” safe, there will be no fans allowed to watch the Matches. these leagues selected Disney World because the fields are all set up for broadcast, and games will be broadcast on ESPN, FOX, or Univision.
Orlando City will face off with Inter Miami to kick off the “MLS is Back” Tournament on July 8 at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World, highlighting the two home-state teams in the competition. Inter Miami’s front office is filled with former Orlando City leaders, some who were let go from their positions as the Lions kept retooling in an effort to earn their first playoff bid.
MLS added Inter Miami to Orlando City’s Group A pool.
New York City FC, Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire and Nashville SC joined Pool A during the draw.
Orlando City will play Inter Miami, NYCFC and Nashville in the group stage.
Here are the other pools in the Eastern Conference:
GROUP C: Toronto FC, New England Revolution, Montreal Impact and D.C. United.
GROUP E: Atlanta United, Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew.
And here are Western Conference pools:
GROUP B: Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas, Vancouver and San Jose.
GROUP D: Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC, Colorado and Minnesota.
GROUP F: LAFC, L.A. Galaxy, Houston and Portland.
MLS announced it is staging the tournament, bringing its 26 teams to the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando for a World Cup style tournament. The event will feature 54 total matches.
The games will be played at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. to avoid peak heat and humidity.