The Four Corners region – specifically Osceola Heritage Park and Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex – continues to be the home away from home for Major League Soccer’s Orlando City Soccer Club.
The league returns to play in July with the 54-match “MLS is Back Tournament” at the expansive ESPN Wide World of Sports facility.
The FIFA World Cup-style event will be held with no spectators, but local soccer fans can enjoy knowing that all 26 MLS teams are scheduled to be in town as Orlando City kicks off the tournament with its first-ever meeting against Inter Miami CF on Wednesday, July 8.
“Very excited to have the opportunity and I’m ready to have the whole group training in the normal form and in the normal mode,” Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja said last week during a press conference posted on the team’s website. “The players are excited too and they can’t wait just to start seeing the competition, even in the trainings.”
The club announced on June 15 that it had begun full team training sessions at the Orlando City SC Training Ground at Osceola Heritage Park.
The organization expanded its presence in Osceola County by relocating its training and development operations to the Heritage Park complex, which was unveiled with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in January. The facility also serves as the official training grounds for Orlando City B of the United Soccer League and the Orlando City Development Academy.
Exploria Stadium in downtown Orlando serves as Orlando City’s primary home, but the Lions have not suited up for an MLS match there since Feb. 29 when they kicked off their 2020 regular-season schedule with a scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake. The MLS suspended matches on March 12 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Major League Soccer conducted a live draw on June 11 to determine the initial matchups for the “MLS is Back Tournament” with the 26 teams split into six groups. As the tournament’s host club, Orlando City received the top placing in the six-team Group A that also features Inter Miami CF, New York City FC, Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire FC and expansion club Nashville SC.
The semifinalists from the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs (Atlanta United, Los Angeles FC, Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC) and Real Salt Lake (the next highest point-getter in the Western Conference from last season) were also group seeds alongside Orlando City.
The Lions will also play New York City FC and Nashville SC during the group stage – specific matchup dates and broadcast details were unavailable at press time – with results counting toward the 2020 MLS regular-season standings. The top two teams from each group will join the four best third-place finishers in the knockout stage beginning July 25. (Matches tied at the end of regulation in the round of 16 will go directly to a penalty-kick shootout.)
Tournament quarterfinals are scheduled for July 30-Aug. 1, followed by the semifinal matches on Aug. 5-6 and the championship final on Aug. 11. The overall winner earns a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.
Upon completion of the tournament, MLS stated it plans to continue the 2020 regular season with a revised schedule in home markets. MLS – which is implementing health, safety and medical protocols in advance of the tournament as well as during the event – will join a notable list of soccer leagues and competitions resuming competition that includes the English Premier League, German Bundesliga and Spanish La Liga.
* The National Women’s Soccer League becomes the country’s first professional contact sports league to be back in action Saturday (June 27) with the Challenge Cup. The Orlando Pride help kick off the tournament at 10 p.m. (EST) Saturday with a preliminary stage match against the Chicago Red Stars at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.
The Pride are also scheduled to play the Portland Thorns (July 1), North Carolina Courage (July 5) and Sky Blue FC (July 8) during the opening stage.
All of the NWSL’s nine clubs will have four preliminary stage matches, with the top eight finishers moving into the single-elimination knockout bracket. Semifinal matches (July 22) and the tournament final (July 26) will be held at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
CBS All Access will air the majority of matches, while CBS is scheduled to televise Saturday’s North Carolina-Portland match as well as the championship game.
Celebration flag football players named to FACA All-State Team
The Florida Athletic Coaches Association recently released its 2020 Flag Football All-State Team, which consisted of a First Team as well as Honorable Mention selections in Class 2A and Class 1A. The abbreviated list reflected a shortened season due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Celebration High had three players named honorable mention in Class 2A – Sabrina Binet, Selina Rivera and Sophia Rivera. The Storm went 2-1 prior to the coronavirus shutdown, which included shutout wins over Tohopekaliga and Poinciana.