MLS is Back! At least that’s what they’ve titled the World Cup-styled tournament taking place in Orlando, Florida beginning on July 8th. New York City FC have been placed in Group A with the hosts, Orlando City, as well as 2020 MLS debutants Inter Miami, and Nashville SC, with the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire filling out the only six-team group in the competition.
The winner of the tournament is ensured a position in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, so this is certainly an important competition that all teams will take seriously. So what do we need to know about the five teams we’ll be competing with in hopes of advancing to the knockout stage? Keep reading.
Orlando City SC
Our 2015 Inaugural Season partner, and the de facto “host” club of the tournament, had yet another busy offseason offloading players, and bringing in new ones.
The club brought in three players for a season-long loan from South America, all of which have already made their debut, and could be mainstays in the XI throughout the tournament. Junior Urso is another newcomer from South America, signing from Corinthians, but differs in that he has joined on a full transfer. Pedro Gallese — who you may remember from Peru’s squad in the Copa America last summer — was also a huge acquisition for the club who are looking to continue a downward trend in goals conceded, a stat they improved on greatly from 2018 to 2019.
Key Acquisition: Junior Urso
The 31-year-old Brazilian is past his prime, but may finally provide stability in the midfield that Orlando has so desperately lacked since their arrival in Major League Soccer. He played every minute for Orlando in their opening two matches of the season, with a particularly impressive performance against Real Salt Lake to begin the season. Andres Perea and Pedro Gallese may also prove to be keys if Orlando have success, but Urso provides something Orlando has lacked for five years — stability.
Ahhh, another forced rivalry for Orlando — how refreshing! Thankfully, Inter Miami have been a promising club since Day 1.
It was clear David Beckham and Jorge Mas were going to build something special, and it’s a shame they weren’t provided a proper inaugural season. The club splashed early on, announcing Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza, a pair of Argentinians who have since turned 20-years-old. Follow that up with Rodolfo Pizarro finally joining after weeks of waiting, and you have yourself a dangerous trio.
However, the club formed a solid base of MLS experience around them, similar to what Atlanta did in 2017 when they brought in Jeff Larentowicz, Michael Parkhurst, and brought Brad Guzan back to MLS. Miami’s vets include Luis Robles, Roman Torres, and Lee Nguyen. They also have Diego Alonso on the sideline. The Uruguayan manager has won two CONCACAF Champions League titles since entering the scene in 2014, with Pachuca and Monterrey.
Oh, and they took Ben Sweat from us too.
Key Acquisition: Rodolfo Pizarro
As I said, Miami has put together a really impressive roster, but up until just a couple of weeks before the season, they still had no star. They didn’t have a David Villa, or a Josef Martinez/Miguel Almiron like all successful teams have in an inaugural season (not that we matched Atlanta’s 2017 efforts) and then Pizarro entered the picture. Sure, you definitely can’t expect numbers similar to any of the aforementioned players, but he promises quality on the field that will likely be superior to all others over 90 minutes.
Who’s the opposite of Inter Miami in 2020 expansion? Nashville SC.
Sure, Hany Mukhtar is an exciting addition to the league, and he’s surrounded by fun players in Jimmy Medranda, David Accam, and Abu Danladi, but that fun does not equate to success. Anibal Godoy can provide a good run of form as well, but other than Walker Zimmerman, and Daniel Lovitz, you’re not looking at a list of names that jump out at you. Unless you’re a Dax McCarty fan, and that’s much the opposite of their expansion counterparts.
Key Acquisition: Walker Zimmerman
This move came to the surprise of many, and it showed.
Nashville had some ambition. With ease, you could argue that Zimmerman is the best defender in MLS - just ask MLS Fantasy owners. However, his partner is no longer Eddie Segura, it’s David Romney. Zimmerman will have to do much more than he did for a well built LAFC side if he wants his new club to have any success in this tournament.
Similarly to us, Philadelphia felt comfortable with their squad, and only made a handful of changes this past offseason.
They’re a sneaky good team, in case you haven’t been paying attention, and Jim Curtin has them playing some of the smoothest play in the league. The club mixes their own academy products with players like Kacper Przybylko and Jamiro Monteiro, and it works. Curtin & Co. have been building this project for a few years, and last season it all came together for them.
Don’t overlook the Chester boys. A match against them provides ample opportunity for heartbreak.
Key Acquisition: Jakob Glesnes
As I mentioned, Philadelphia play smooth soccer, and the arrival of Glesnes allows them to feel comfortable in possession at the back. Aerially, he’s dominant on both ends of the pitch, and he can score free kicks from 40 yards out, so that’s cool. Philadelphia only trailed NYCFC and Atlanta in terms of points out in the Eastern Conference last season, but they conceded 8 more goals than us, and 7 more than ATL. If Glesnes turns out to be a success, Philadelphia could surprise many in the tournament.
Bastian Schweinsteiger — retired. Dax McCarty — traded to Nashville. Nemanja Nikolic — off to Hungary. Remember when these guys helped lead Chicago a couple of seasons ago? Well, a new era has begun and let’s face it, none of them will be overwhelmingly missed based on 2019 performances.
Nikolic was replaced by Robert Beric, the Krsko-born striker joining from Saint-Etienne in France. Gaston Gimenez joined from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina and can control the game from the center of the pitch. These two will have to form a solid connection and help the young Djordje Mihailovic otherwise they may be leaving the tournament early on.
Key Acquisition: Robert Beric
Yes, Gaston Gimenez is the club’s new record transfer. But Chicago struggled to score away from home last season, and Beric could become a prominent goalscorer in MLS similar to former Fire striker, Nemanja Nikolic, upon his arrival.
The Fire missed out on the playoffs by just three points, but only won two games away from home. If Beric can help the Fire pick up some away points when the real season begins, they’re definite playoff contenders. But first, he has to put his goalscoring on display in the tournament.