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The suspension of the 2020 MLS regular season posed many problems for the competition, not to mention the teams and their players. However, competitive football has now returned and it's fair to say that it comes with plenty of eager anticipation, thanks to the aptly named MLS is Back Tournament.
Hosted at the impressive facilities of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, itself situated near Orlando and within the sprawling Walt Disney World Resort, 24 of the 26 MLS teams are competing in this new and unique tournament.
In essence, the format of the MLS is Back Tournament is very similar to that used at previous FIFA World Cup Finals, with group stages followed by knock-out rounds, and a process of elimination until two teams reach the final itself.
After the initial tournament phase which features six groups of four teams, the top two teams from each group will automatically earn their passage to the seeded playoff stage.
To make up a total of 16 teams required for the knockout playoff stage, four more teams will qualify as wildcards. This means that throughout the group phase, every game and every goal scored or conceded, could be decisive towards which teams qualify via that route. You can find the latest odds and read more news about the MLS on Worlds Sports Network on the teams competing in this unique tournament, which has essentially replaced the suspended 2020 regular season. Currently, it's hard to ignore the endurance and staying power of Seattle Sounders, who are priced at +800 for MLS is Back success.
The tournament winners will also claim a place in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League, with the other three spots awarded to teams winning the MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, and the US Open Cup.
Having enjoyed an excellent campaign which saw them dominate the Western Conference, Los Angeles FC also lifted the Supporters' Shield in 2019 as the best regular-season team. They head into the new 2020 tournament as outright favourites at +400 odds.
Spearheaded in an attack by English veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was signed from New York Red Bulls with a phenomenal MLS scoring record, not to mention the style and swagger of Mexican maestro Carlos Vela; LAFC will clearly take some beating.
After sweeping past FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake, the Sounders produced a shock 3-1 win against LAFC in the Western Conference Final. That score was repeated against Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Final, securing their ultimate glory last season.
Also keep your eyes peeled for the dazzling skills of Luis Nani, with the 33-year-old Portuguese star producing some exceptional football with Orlando City. Likewise, watch out for talented young striker Ayo Akinola, who has bagged five goals in his first 2 games already for Toronto.
Other teams to watch carefully include Orlando City, Real Salt Lake, and Columbus Crew. This trio has all made flying starts to the group phase, winning their opening two encounters, which makes them serious contenders to actually win the MLS is Back Tournament. With the opportunity to participate in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League, every team will be considering what they can do to take the top spot.