The three Canadian teams are headed to the U.S. to play the next phase of the pandemic-rejigged MLS schedule.
The league announced Friday that each MLS club will play three regular-season matches from Sept. 18-27.
With U.S. teams facing travel restrictions coming north because of COVID-19, the Canadian clubs will play all three of their games south of the border — with each club playing one home match in a U.S. city.
The Montreal Impact (4-4-1) will host the Philadelphia Union on Sept. 20 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., while Toronto FC (6-2-3) faces Columbus Crew SC on Sept. 27 at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.
The Vancouver Whitecaps (3-6-0) appear to have got the short end of the stick by hosting the Timbers at Providence Park in Portland, also Sept. 27.
Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos called the Portland match a “fictitious” home game but did not want to dwell on not getting a neutral venue.
“For Canadian teams right now with COVID, to win the MLS Cup, they have to go through a kind of ‘Mission Impossible’ kind of role where they’re going to have to grind, find solutions, never be home, always playing on the road. And we have to be incredibly strong mentally,” he said.
“It’s a schedule that’s very hard but it’s also a schedule that’s going to give us an opportunity to show the team and the group that we are and what we want to be about.”
TFC will be playing Columbus at the 38,000-seat stadium that is home to University of Connecticut football. Coincidentally, Hartford made a pitch to host Blue Jays games when the baseball team was scrambling to find a place to play earlier this summer.
“We felt that it was important to have a surrogate home field that had similarities to BMO Field, in dimension, surface characteristics, and field quality,” Toronto GM Ali Curtis said in a statement. “Also, from a competitive standpoint, a priority was to have our own home field.
“While playing at BMO Field is always our preferred and ideal option, we think the East Hartford location is the best available option for this next phase.”
A source, not authorized to speak on the record because the rest of the schedule has not been released yet, said Toronto will play all of its remaining regular-season games in East Hartford.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont confirmed that in a release, saying that his administration, working in collaboration with Spectra Venue Management services which manages the stadium, “has reached an agreement with Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC to play its home games this season at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.”
Toronto will also play away matches at D.C. United and New York City FC while Montreal visits the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution in the next phase of play. Vancouver plays at Real Salt Lake and LAFC.
Impact manager Thierry Henry isn’t looking too far ahead.
“Obviously I saw that we’re going to be in New Jersey, playing in Red Bull Arena. But I’m thinking about (playing) Vancouver (on Sunday),” he said.
The league says additional regular-season matches will be announced pending further developments regarding travel protocols.
Dos Santos, for one, has concerns about heading south.
“My concern is on the political side. It’s not a country that I trust today. It’s not a country that is stable … I just want to make sure that as a group, we stick together, we’re very careful about what we do, we’re very careful when we go out somewhere. And then let’s live day by day.”
Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are finishing up an all-Canadian section of the schedule.
TFC has concluded its six-game stretch of games north of the border. Vancouver and Montreal still have two more meetings at B.C. Place Stadium.
Also Friday, MLS confirmed the qualification details and competition format for MLS Cup playoffs.
The post-season will again feature single-elimination matches hosted by the higher-seeded team and follow a straight bracket format through to the MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
As previously announced, 18 clubs will make the playoffs.
Eight teams from the 12-team Western Conference will qualify directly to the first round. The top six seeds from the 14-team Eastern Conference will qualify directly to Round 1.
Teams seeded seventh through 10th in the East will compete in a play-in match (No. 7 vs. No. 10, and No. 8 vs. No. 9) to determine the two additional Eastern Conference playoff entries.
The lower-seeded advancing team will face the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed in Round 1, while the higher-seeded advancing team will face the Eastern Conference No. 2 seed.
The playoff schedule will be announced at a later date.
After shutting down in March after two games of the regular season, the league returned to action in early July with the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida. That was followed by Phase I of return-to-play in local markets, which included the all-Canadian portion.
MLS Phase 2 Schedule (All times ET)
Friday, Sept. 18
Seattle Sounders vs. LAFC, 10 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19
Sporting Kansas City vs. FC Dallas, 3:30 p.m.
New England Revolution vs. New York City FC, TBD
Atlanta United vs. Inter Miami CF, 7 p.m.
New York Red Bulls vs. FC Cincinnati, 7 p.m.
Columbus Crew SC vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.
D.C. United vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.
Orlando City SC vs. Chicago Fire FC, 7:30 p.m.
Houston Dynamo vs. Minnesota United, 8 p.m.
Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 9:30 p.m.
L.A. Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids, 10:30 p.m.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Portland Timbers, 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 20
Montreal Impact vs. Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 23
Atlanta United vs. FC Dallas, 7 p.m.
New York City FC vs. Toronto FC, 7 p.m.
Chicago Fire FC vs. Houston Dynamo, 7:30 p.m.
FC Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.
Columbus Crew SC vs. Minnesota United, 7:30 p.m.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.
New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact, 7:30 p.m.
Inter Miami CF vs. New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m.
Nashville SC vs. D.C. United, 8:30 p.m.
Colorado Rapids vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 9 p.m.
Real Salt Lake vs. L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders FC, 10 p.m.
LAFC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 26
Nashville SC vs. Houston Dynamo, 3:30 p.m.
New York City FC vs. FC Cincinnati, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 27
D.C. United vs. New England Revolution, 7 p.m.
New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact, 7 p.m.
Chicago Fire FC vs. Atlanta United, 7:30 p.m.
Philadelphia Union vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew SC at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., 7:30 p.m.
Minnesota United vs. Real Salt Lake, 8 p.m.
FC Dallas vs. Orlando City SC, 8:30 p.m.
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting Kansas City, 9 p.m.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers at Providence Park, Portland, 10 p.m.
LAFC vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 10:30 p.m.
L.A. Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2020.
With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press