As positive Covid-19 cases continue to emerge from the Orlando bubble, the MLS Is Back tournament will face questions on its viability. FC Dallas already pulled out, and Nashville SC’s game against Chicago scheduled for Wednesday was postponed after five positive tests.
Regardless, we can talk about soccer as long as there’s soccer to be played. Orlando City SC and Inter Miami kick off the tournament on Wednesday and there are games scheduled for every day afterward into mid-August. It would be wishful thinking to assume this is all going to go off without a hitch, but why not have some optimism?
Here are some interesting games to watch.
NYCFC vs. Philadelphia Union (July 9)
The first early-morning game of the tournament, this match will be crucial for Group A, the six-team Eastern Conference group. NYC and Philly are its best teams.
New York manager Ronny Deila has had a few months to think through his approach with this squad, which carries over most of its important contributors from last year. Maxi Moralez and Heber are NYC’s best attackers; Heber put up 15 goals in injury-diminished minutes last year, and Moralez is an MVP-level player. Philly’s energetic press will be fun to watch against NYC’s attack and whatever Deila comes up with.
Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes (July 10)
It was a tough start to the season for Matias Almeyda’s Earthquakes. They narrowly survived a home game against Toronto FC with a 2-2 draw (thanks to Osvaldo Alanis’s golazo) and then got blitzed by Minnesota United, 5-2. Things are still coming together for Almeyda and his troublesome backline.
They face a difficult test in Seattle, who are the defending champs, in case you forgot. (The 2019 MLS Cup feels like it happened about three years ago.) Nicolas Lodeiro is healthy now after missing the early season games. The Sounders have everyone ready, including newcomers Joao Paulo and Yeimar Gomez Andrade.
Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC (July 15)
This Canadian rivalry match always lives up to the hype. TFC are top contenders in Group C with Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore projected to partner up top in one of Greg Vanney’s favored two-striker formations. Altidore is, of course, a dominant force when healthy, and Pozuelo is one of the most exciting creators in the league. Michael Bradley is fully fit.
Thierry Henry’s Impact were ambiguous tactically in March and have a number of options across the lineup. It’s anyone’s guess as to how exactly they’ll play and line up. Victor Wanyama will play a prominent role in midfield.
LAFC vs. LA Galaxy (July 18)
We won’t see Carlos Vela in this tournament, as Vela opted out to be with his pregnant wife, but the LA derby shouldn’t lose too much luster. Javier Chicharito Hernandez will be there, along with most of the other stars of the rivalry: Cristian Pavon, Diego Rossi, Eduard Atuesta, etc. LA Galaxy will be missing Jonathan dos Santos, however, due to an injury.
Bob Bradley and LAFC will have to replace the production of Vela somehow. There’s no way to make up his sheer volume, but more chance-creation responsibility will fall on Rossi, and highly-touted Uruguayan Brian Rodriguez will have to step up.
Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew (July 21)
There is still excitement and hope in Columbus, the team I picked to win MLS Cup. They showed promising signs in the first two regular season games and on paper, they look set at every position. The midfield, with Darlington Nagbe partnering Artur behind Lucas Zelarayan, is particularly exciting.
Atlanta will be trying to replace Josef Martinez, who tore his ACL in March. It seems likely that Adam Jahn will be tasked with filling lanes and poking in some goals here and there, though he can’t be expected to carry the gravity (or finish with the effectiveness) of Josef. Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco played well in March. Hopes are high for the high-priced duo.