PREVIEW – Major League Soccer is back. The MLS is Back Group D kicks off this Sunday night. While many in American and Canadian Soccer see Group F as the Group of Death, Group D is tough with four relatively even matched teams.
MLS is Back Group D Preview
Group D has Real Salt Lake as seeded team. They are joined by Sporting KC, Minnesota United FC, and Colorado Rapids.
Real Salt Lake:
RSL were the seeded team in this group by being a top finisher in the Western Conferece last year. Ironically, they might be the weakest team in this group. Nick Rimando retired last year, with Zac MacMath likely to fill in at the back. Their best defender Nedum Onuoha did not travel to Orlando. There’s a question of how well 38-year-old Kyle Beckerman can handle the schedule of this tournament.
Albert Rusnak is still a match winning No. 10. RSL has a number of strikers who can score but no clear top threat. If things don’t go well early, look for Damir Kreilach to move from midfield to center forward. Freddy Juarez is in his first year as the permanent manager of RSL so his decisions will be watched.
Peter Vermes and SKC were coming into 2020 on tour of vengence. They missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade last year. The offseason saw them break the club transfer fee record to sign Alan Pulido. He’s the best player in this group by far.
Look for #SportingFit to be a major theme of their group stage with a veteran team who know how to take care of their bodies and a club staff that know how to manage loads. They’re the class of the group. Baring injuries, they have no obvious weaknesses to be exploited.
The Loons made the playoffs for the first time last year. They addressed a concern at forward in signing Luis Amarilla. The back line will be without Ike Opara, but they have quality at every other defensive position assuming Ozzie Alonso doesn’t get warn out with the fixture congestion.
Adrian Heath does a great job setting up his teams to score goals. He also knows how to spin a narrative to keep his group engaged and motivated. Not having Opara hurts, but if their strikers can get hot, they can keep up with and beat any of the other teams in this group.
The Rapids are a dark horse favorite for this tournament. Robin Fraser nearly got this team to the playoffs last year after a terrible start. They addressed their one big weakness in the offseason in bringing in Younes Namli to be their No. 10.
They defend well and have a good mix of youth and veteran experience. Other than the central midfield where they will rely on Jack Price and Kellyn Acosta, they’ve got depth at every position. They’re good on set pieces and disciplined. We’ve seen that makeup be very successful in tournament soccer. They will be a tough out for anyone.
Last Word: Prediction
SKC is winning this group. Vermes has them as one of the best run clubs in the league and they have the best player in Pulido.
The first matchday has a non-Rocky Mountain Cup. With RSL being the weakest team in the group, I like Colorado to win that. Winning the first game is critical to advancing to the knockout. They will get a result against Minnesota and finish second.
The other two teams are missing their best center backs. Minnesota has more scoring potential with RSL being so dependent on Rusnak. They will finish third and get one of the third place spots in the knockouts as RSL finishes last.