Editorial — After four months, (men’s) soccer in the United States finally resumed on Wednesday with the MLS is Back Tournament. The first of its kind, the tournament has given us the soccer itch many MLS fans craved.
Alas, it was Group A that gave us a big chunk of the storylines, both on the pitch and off.
The storylines came quick.
Nashville leaves, Chicago to Group B
Among the late minute goals, skills and exciting introduction to the tournament, it was the news of Nashville’s removal that captured the most eyes. As first reported by The Athletic, Nashville was withdrawn from the tournament following numerous positive COVID tests. Even with numerous players still wanting to play, MLS and Commissioner Don Garber threw the hammer down on Nashville SC’s chances.
With a chance to make the groups even with teams, the Chicago Fire moved from Group A to Group B.
It may not be the worst news for Chicago, who goes into an objectively weaker group featuring Western Conference bottom feeders Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes. Though they are a club with little MLS experience, the raw talent of the Chicago Fire gives them a direct pathway to the knockout stage that may not have been there in Group A.
The hosts make a statement
Speaking of Group A, it was the group that kicked off MLS action for the first time in over four months on Wednesday. In the opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament, hosts Orlando City SC put on a show in their surprising 2-1 victory vs. cross-state rivals Inter Miami.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) July 9, 2020
It was the palate cleanser that MLS and soccer fans desperately needed. The match featured the introduction of a cross-state rivalry, aggressive play, and a last-minute winner from one of MLS’ stars Nani.
Nani stole the show for Orlando, bagging an assist before netting the winner in stoppage time for the Lions. While his work ethic left Joao Moutinho pulling a lot of the heavy lifting on Orlando’s left side, Nani’s end product won’t cause manager Oscar Pareja to lose too much sleep.
Inter’s slow start continues
Good News: Miami managed to score their first goal in MLS history!
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 9, 2020
Bad News: It came in a 2-1 loss after a late defensive collapse.
Though an engine room featuring Will Trapp and Victor Ulloa was clinical in the first half, fatigue quickly set in causing Inter Miami’s defensive structure to unravel. This was evident in added time when full back turned center back Ben Sweat committed an egregious error on a set piece with no midfielder coming to help.
Miami will see some form of consolation for winning a majority of the match, but consolation won’t advance them in this type of tournament.
Philadelphia Union’s backline the difference
I controversially stated that Union’s backline was the most underrated in MLS. Well, one match into their MLS is Back campaign, Mark McKenzie and Jack Elliott fit the mold for an elite MLS pairing. You could count with one hand the chances Heber had to touch the ball in the final third, and it was the marking of Union’s backline that caused it.
However, the star from this match was Andre Blake. In the final minutes of the match, Blake committed spectacular save after spectacular save for Philadelphia. That earned the Union a deserved three points.
Also, a little late but…
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) July 9, 2020
NYCFC’s Struggles continue
On the wrong end of a spectacular Union defense, NYCFC was unable to find the back of the net. The loss makes it three-straight 1-0 losses going back to before quarantine.
For an NYCFC squad with high expectations in MLS’ Group A, the performance was unacceptable. For a squad with three designated players in attack, conceding clean sheet after clean sheet will not get you past the group stage.
What’s next for Group A?
The second match week begins on Tuesday, with a classic NYCFC taking on Orlando City to kick us off. The Philadelphia Union will also look to advance to the knockout stage with a win over Inter Miami.
If MLS fans have learned one thing from this tournament, it’s to expect the unexpected. That said, I can see NYCFC and Philadelphia both picking up crucial wins against their Florida counterparts.