MLSisBack: The Story So Far

As July 8th approached, Nashville SC was in prime position to capture the Nashville sports market as the first of the major sports to retake the field post the mass postponement due to COVID-19. Alas, several positive tests forced the team to follow FC Dallas and remove itself from the tournament for the safety of all those involved. Still, ratings have increased greatly in the Nashville market, bringing a large contingent of new fans of the game, which should only be good news for Nashville SC whenever they do return to the field.

So what is the MLSIsBack Tournament?

The MLSIsBack tournament is a standard tournament format that will follow a similar structure to one some fans may be familiar with from the World Cup. All of the games are taking place within the MLS “Bubble” in Orlando Florida. From July 8th to July 23rd a group stage will see 3 games per team to determine seeding for the tournament, which begins on July 25th. This will ultimately culminate in the championship game on August 11th.

What’s at stake?

So all of the games that are taking place will count towards the 2020 regular season point. In addition, the winning side will be awarded a piece of a $1.1 million prize pool. Finally, and possibly most significant, the winner will be awarded an automatic spot in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League. This is a unique path as this tournament has both Canadian teams and US teams. Typically those spots in the Concacaf tournament are handled as country specific. 

What has been going on in the tournament?

As the tournament kicked off on July 8th, and a vast amount of Americans took to their television to witness the first live sports in the country in months, the MLSIsBack tournament delivered… poorly. As could be expected from such a long layoff, and with some teams only having 7 days to prepare for the tournament in Orlando, play was extremely sloppy. This has even been shown more through the number of red cards in games.

The “beautiful game” was anything but. This had to be disappointing to the MLS and fans alike who saw this as an opportunity to capture a new grouping of fans who may have not have given soccer a chance previously.

Since the first round of games, however, generally speaking the level of play has vastly improved as teams become accustomed to the conditions in Orlando, as well as simply finding their rhythm again with their team. The start times have ranged from early morning to late night matches, making it difficult for the teams to get into a regular routine.

Who has been underwhelming?

New York FC came into this year with great expectations, after finishing first in the Eastern Conference a year ago. So far in the tournament, they are winless and just one goal so far. 

The reigning champs, the Seattle Sounders, have a win, a tie and a loss on their #MLSisBack resume and need to get some help if they want to move on in the tournament. 

Atlanta United FC were considered the favorites in Group E and they have rewarded those who believed in them with 2 losses in their first two matches. The only 

The LA Galaxy have seen two games, and just as many losses as they fell to the Portland Timbers in their first game and were routed 6-2 by LA FC in their second. 

Who has been impressive? 

Group A’s Orlando City SC and Philadelphia Union both have taken all 6 points available in their matches. They are 2 of the only 4 teams so far to win all of their matches. Beating Inter Miami CF might not be impressive, but beating NYCFC has been. Both clubs have punched their ticket to the knockout stage of the tournament. 

The third team to have earned all 6 points is Columbus Crew SC. Columbus entered the tournament as a dark-horse to win, but have shown they are much more than that. The Crew have been maybe the most impressive team in the tournament on the back of 6 goals scored  in their two wins and 0 goals conceded thus far. Their next match against Atlanta United FC will be an opportunity to further assert their dominance. 

Toronto FC has been a lot of fun to watch, scoring 6 goals in the tournament. They only have 1 win to show for it, in part because of their suspect defense, but they have been worth tuning in to. 

LAFC has started slow in both of their matches thus far, but finished strong, scoring 9 goals total this tournament. Even without their best player in Carlos Vela, LAFC has been the most offensively impressive team this tournament. The defense needs work, and the slow starts need to be fixed, but they have been the most exciting team in #MLSisBack. 

The Portland Timbers have seen two victories with a pair of 2-1 wins over the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo. LA only managed to score on Portland after Portland had a player sent off in the 75th minute.

Who has some work to do?

FC Cincinnati has a winner-take-all match with the New York Red Bulls to decide who will have a guaranteed spot in the knockout round, despite Cincinnati being the leader in the Wildcard standings. Cincy was one of the worst teams in the league in 2019, but have a chance to further outperform expectations with a win against NYRB. 

Sporting KC would be Thanos’ favorite team of the tournament so far. One win, one loss, 4 goals for, 4 goals against. Perfectly balanced as all things should be, right? Well, they would like to have a chance to tip the scales and make the knockout stage should they beat Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. 

Current Standings: 

Group A
#ClubPTSGPWLTGFGAGD
1Orlando City SC62200523
2Philadelphia Union62200312
3Inter Miami CF0202024-2
4New York City FC0202014-3
Group B
#ClubPTSGPWLTGFGAGD
1San Jose Earthquakes73201633
2Seattle Sounders FC43111422
3Chicago Fire FC3211023-1
4Vancouver Whitecaps FC0202037-4
Group C
#ClubPTSGPWLTGFGAGD
1Toronto FC42101651
2New England Revolution42101211
3D.C. United22002330
4Montreal Impact0202035-2
Group D
#ClubPTSGPWLTGFGAGD
1Real Salt Lake42101202
2Minnesota United FC42101211
3Sporting Kansas City32110440
4Colorado Rapids0202025-3
Group E
#ClubPTSGPWLTGFGAGD
1Columbus Crew SC62200606
2New York Red Bulls3211012-1
3FC Cincinnati3211014-3
4Atlanta United FC0202002-2
Group F
#ClubPTSGPWLTGFGAGD
1Portland Timbers62200422
2Los Angeles Football Club42101954
3Houston Dynamo1201145-1
4LA Galaxy0202038-5

Additional Rules: Teams that automatically advance to Round of 16: The top 2 finishers from all Groups advance to the Round of 16 in the Knockout Stage presented by Audi.

Wild Cards: The four highest-ranked third-place teams in the group stage based on total points advance to Round of 16. The following procedure (in order of priority) will be used to determine which teams advance: 1. Total number of points, 2. Goal differential, 3. Goals for, 4. Fewest Disciplinary Points.

Full standings and tiebreakers sourced from https://www.mlssoccer.com/mls-is-back-tournament/standings

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