Three storylines to watch as MLS makes its regular season return

Posted By Harrison Hamm on August 16, 2020

Now that the MLS is Back tournament has concluded (the Portland Timbers beat Orlando City SC in the final), MLS will try to replicate its bubble success in home markets. The regular season restarted a few days ago, as FC Dallas and Nashville SC played their first games since March after positive Covid-19 tests forced them out of Orlando, and other teams will resume starting Tuesday.

It may be tough to count on this continuing seamlessly — we’ve seen what’s happened with Major League Baseball as they count on players to be responsible — but we’ll have MLS soccer to watch at a breakneck pace similar to the way it was in Orlando. Games will take place nearly every day. Let’s look at some of the most interesting storylines as an abbreviated race to the postseason kicks off.

The Cubo Torres show in Atlanta

Atlanta United had a rough go of it in the bubble, with the injury to star striker Josef Martinez hurting about as bad as you might expect it to. Somewhat surprisingly, they parted ways with coach Frank de Boer after losing all three of their group stage games by an identical 1-0 score. They acted like a big club with no tolerance for losing, a good sign for the league.

A couple other big moves resulted from the flop: Atlanta signed winger Jurgen Damm and forward Cubo Torres. Torres, as a direct replacement for Martinez, is particularly notable. He has a history in MLS as a poaching forward for Chivas USA and the Houston Dynamo, famously scoring 15 goals in 29 games for Chivas USA in their final season, before dipping in and out of form with Houston. He’s had a weird career.

Interim manager Stephen Glass, who coached Atlanta United 2, will hope Torres can make good runs and finish some chances up top. He has to help Damm, Ezequiel Barco, and Pity Martinez, not necessarily be Josef. A forward at Torres’s peak 15-goal level could really help Atlanta.

Inter Miami add Blaise Matuidi

Rumors will always follow the David Beckham-owned club, but for the first time, one of those major rumors actually came through this month. Miami signed center midfielder Blaise Matuidi, a 33-year-old Frenchman who is the 12th player in MLS history to have won the World Cup. Matuidi was an important part of France’s 2018 winning team, and he’s been a consistent winner with PSG and Juventus.

Miraculously, Inter Miami managed to sign Matuidi on a Targeted Allocation Money deal, rather than a Designated Player deal, meaning Matuidi took a pay cut. At 33, Matuidi is not in Miami to be a glorified statue, like Andrea Pirlo in New York or Steven Gerrard in LA. He will likely take Victor Ulloa’s spot next to Wil Trapp in midfield, providing a perfect partner for Trapp. The debut of Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez in central defense also increases optimism for Miami, who looked competent in Orlando.

The return of young FC Dallas

FCD had the hard luck of being kicked out of the MLS is Back tournament due to positive coronavirus tests, meaning that before they lost 1-0 to Nashville on Wednesday, they hadn’t played a game since March. As a young, upstart team, that is a difficult situation.

A year after they gave the eventual champs Seattle Sounders a thriller of a playoff game, FCD enters with a cast of young talent. Paxton Pomykal is the centerpiece, a highly-touted 20-year-old midfielder with exceptional ball-moving skills. 18-year-old Tanner Tessmann projects to see minutes after starting both games in March and playing 16 minutes off the bench in the return against Nashville. Jesus Ferreira and Reggie Cannon (19 and 22) are two of Dallas’s most important players.

Luchi Gonzalez will have the task of getting them back to game speed and performing at their best level. Despite that initial 1-0 loss, there is plenty of promise in Dallas.

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