MiB Group D Review: Sporting Rising, Dark Horses, and Red Cards

MiB Group D
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ORLANDO, Fla. – The Group Stage of the MLS is Back tournament is over. The MiB Group D completed play Wednesday night. Sporting KC and Minnesota United FC are through to the knockout stage as the top two teams. Real Salt Lake have qualified as a best third team. Colorado Rapids, a dark horse for this tournament, are eliminated.

MiB Group D Review: Sporting Rising, Dark Horses, and Red Cards

This game was peak MLS chaos to say the least. Sporting KC lost their first game after Tim Melia was given a red card with SKC in the lead. Colorado shocked many in losing their first two games under very different circumstances. RSL and Minnesota managed their three games well, with Albert Rusnak pulling the strings, and Minnesota creating offense by committee.

Ultimately, Sporting recovered to win their final two games to top MiB Group D. The Loons went undefeated to finish second with five points. RSL were opportunistic in their first game against Colorado to end up as the best third place team in MiB.

Sporting KC – Advanced as Group Winner

Other than the red card to Melia in the first game against Minnesota, the group stage went as expected for Sporting. Alan Pulido was the catalyst for the offense, with 1 goal and 3 assists. Khiry Shelton turned into a great complementary piece to him with 2 goals as well.

Peter Vermes had his team fit and healthy. Other than the game where they lost a man, they finished strong and managed their two wins well. Matt Besler organized the backline well. There’s still a weakness at the other center back position with Roberto Puncec, but they’re making it work. Graham Zusi continues to be one of the best two-way fullbacks in MLS.

They team looked their best in their final (must result) game against RSL. They won 2-0, dominated play, and got a clean sheet. They should be considered a contender for the tournament, having a relatively easy path to the semifinals.

Minnesota United FC – Advances as Group Runner up

The Loons are probably the best MiB Group D example of being pragmatic and managing the score line in a tournament setting. They took care of business barely in their first game after Melia was given a red card. Sure they didn’t find a goal until stoppage time, but there was just enough urgency to get the big three points.

They were the better side in their second game against RSL, but they limited the opponent’s chances significantly. Defensively, they’ve been very solid given that Ike Opara has been unable to play in the tournament. They’re really only vulnerable in transition. Still all three goals they have given up were the result of a great play by the opponent.

Their final match, a 2-2 draw with eliminated Colorado, wasn’t the best. But it was the last match of the group and they knew that all they needed was a draw. Like in the game against RSL, they managed the result well.

At any moment, they’ve got 4-5 players on the field who can create a scoring opportunity. That will create problems for any opponent. The lack of an elite match winner could be their downfall, as they play Columbus Crew SC in the Round of 16.

Real Salt Lake – Advanced as a Best Third Team

RSL really benefited from their first game, catching Colorado on their worst day in probably a year. Rusnak pulled the strings offensively and they were opportunistic when the opponent made a mistake. Freddy Juarez is in his first full season managing the team and he’s done a good job creating locker room chemistry and belief.

Salt Lake hasn’t scored a goal since however. They were the second best team against Minnesota and gave up several chances. Kyle Beckerman has clearly lost a step. Nedum Onuoha’s absence has been felt. That’s left them questionable up the middle at times.

A top No. 10 or No. 9 in MLS should be able to unlock them defensively. In the knockout stage, they can ill-afford to make any mistakes at the back. Damir Kreilach will be leaned on heavily. Another auxiliary piece will need to step up as well if they want to win this tournament, if Rusnak is indeed unavailable.

Colorado Rapids – Eliminated in Group Stage

Other than Atlanta United FC and LA Galaxy, the Rapids were probably the biggest disappointment of the MLS is Back tournament. They flat out did not show up against RSL and paid the price for mistakes at the back. Old issues of midfielders not tracking back to help with late runners came up. After that, there was no room for error.

Colorado had their second game completely under control after an hour of play. They were up 1-0 on SKC and it could have been 2-0. A confluence of two red card, a penalty, and poor pressure on the ball after a corner saw them lose the game 3-2 dramatically.

This team was deadly on set pieces last year and in the first two games this season. Jonathan Lewis scored the final goal against Minnesota that was a second chance off a set piece, but that’s about it. The play wasn’t sharp enough in transition, the effort wasn’t there, and the defense was leaky.

They rightfully head home now with an all-too-familiar feeling.