There has been a smattering of live sports since the coronavirus pandemic swept across America in March — a little NASCAR here, a dash of charity golf there, a whole bunch of cornhole everywhere. But for over 100 days, North American team sports have gone dark.
The lights flip back on when the MLS Is Back Tournament kicks off tonight in Orlando. The pro soccer tournament serves as a precursor to the return of the NBA, NHL, and MLB, all of which recently finalized the terms of their return. Here’s a sentence that my fingers are delighted to type: Let’s take a look at the upcoming pro sports calendar.
The MLS Is Back Tournament is taking place at the same location where the NBA will resume: the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus at Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The tournament was initially going to feature all 26 MLS clubs competing in a World Cup-style format — a Group Stage, followed by knockout stages beginning with the Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semis, and the Final. However, FC Dallas was forced to withdraw from the tournament on Monday after 10 of its players and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
That’s not the only bad news. Wednesday’s opening night game between Nashville SC and the Chicago Fire was postponed after the MLS announced that five Nashville players received positive COVID-19 tests since arriving in Orlando on July 3 (another four players will be retested following inconclusive results). UPDATE: On Thursday, after announcing those four players tested positive, Nashville SC withdrew from the tournament.
Still, outside of one player from a third club, those are the only positive results thus far among all 26 teams. So the MLS is Back Tournament will still kickoff tonight with an in-state rivalry game between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami CF at 8pm ET on ESPN. Here’s a look at this week’s matches.
|Wed. July 8||8:00 PM||Orlando City SC vs. Inter Miami||ESPN/ ESPN Deportes|
|Thurs. July 9||9:00 AM||New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union||ESPN/ ESPN Deportes|
|Thurs. July 9||8:00 PM||Montreal Impact vs. New England Revolution||ESPN/ ESPN Deportes|
|Fri. July 10||9:00 PM||Seattle Sounders FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes||ESPN/ ESPN Deportes|
|Sat. July 11||8:00 PM||Atlanta United vs. New York RB||FOX|
|Sat. July 11||10:30 PM||Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew||FS1|
|Sun. July 12||9:00 AM||Toronto FC vs. D.C. United||ESPN/ ESPN Deportes|
|Sun. July 12||8:00 PM||Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United||ESPN/ ESPN Deportes|
|Sun. July 12||10:30 PM||Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids||ESPN/ ESPN Deportes|
|Mon. July 13||8:00 PM||Los Angeles FC vs. Houston Dynamo||FS1|
|Mon. July 13||10:30 PM||LA Galaxy vs. Portland Tmibers||FS1|
|Tues. July 14||9:00 AM||Inter Miami CF vs. Chicago Fire||ESPN/ ESPN Deportes|
For a hot minute, it appeared that the MLB season was in jeopardy of not happening at all. But despite a handful of players opting out of the season, baseball will now be the first of the four major sports to return to the field.
On Monday, the MLB announced that a truncated 60-game regular season will get underway on Thursday, July 23 with an Opening Night double-header on ESPN. First up at 7pm ET, The Washington Nationals will begin their World Series title defense with a homestand against the New York Yankees. The second game will see the Los Angeles Dodgers hosting their arch-rival San Francisco Giants at 10pm ET.
Opening Day for all other teams is the next day, Friday, July 24. Unlike the other leagues, which are playing in some sort of neutral site “bubble,” baseball’s regular season will be played in empty stadiums in each team’s home market. Out of the 60 regular season games, 40 will be played against divisional opponents, with the remaining 20 games interleague matchups against teams from the corresponding division (AL West vs. NL West, etc.) The regular season is scheduled to end on Sunday, Sept. 27, followed by a normal 10-team playoff format, with two Wild Card teams from each league joining the six division winners. For a schedule of nationally televised games available on Sling, click here.
The Association seems to have been working on its return longer than the rest of the major sports leagues and, fittingly, it appears to have the most robust plan for both player safety and scheduling. And we do mean robust: With 22 teams participating in the eight “seeding” games ahead of the NBA Playoffs, the calendar will be stuffed with games from morning to night for two straight weeks.
Following a week of preseason games, the NBA Restart tips-off Thursday, July 30 with a double-header on TNT. At 6:30pm ET, the surging Utah Jazz take on a suddenly ripped Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. The next game could be a Western Conference Finals preview, as Kawai Leonard and the LA Clippers take on LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at 9pm ET.
From there, the NBA races through its remaining regular season, with as many as six games taking place every day. Most days feature a start around 1pm ET — good news for breakfast-loving hoops fans on the West Coast — with the last game tipping around 8:30 or 9pm ET — bad news for 9-to-5 hoops fans on the East Coast. For a full schedule of games, follow this link.
Who’s ready for summertime hockey!? On Monday, the NHL and NHLPA announced a four-year extension of their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), clearing the way for an unprecedented 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning Saturday, August 1. Teams will begin training camps next Monday, July 13 and will travel to their hub cities on July 25 or 26.
In what Canadian hockey fans can only hope is a harbinger for their team’s playoff success, the Stanley Cup will be awarded in Canada. Edmonton and Toronto will be the hub cities for the Western and Eastern Conference playoff teams, respectively, with the Stanley Cup Final taking place in Edmonton in October.
Although the schedule has yet to be finalized, the format will open with a Qualifying Round that will determine seeding for the 16-team second round. The Qualifying Round will include round-robin play between the top four teams in the Eastern and Western conference, along with four best-of-five series between the next eight teams in each conference. If this sounds (understandably) confusing, check out the matchups below.
Eastern Conference Round-Robin Teams (Determines Seeds 1-4)
Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers
Eastern Conference Best-of-Five Qualifiers (Losers are Eliminated)
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens
#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers
#7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets
Western Conference Round-Robin Teams (Determines Seeds 1-4)
St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars
Western Conference Best-of-Five Qualifiers
#5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago Blackhawks
#6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes
#7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild
#8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets