Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati, and the Columbus Crew are taking their iconic MLS rivalries into sweltering Orlando, Florida after months of forced downtime. The MLS is Back Tournament is the perfect opportunity for these clubs to settle previously heartbreaking results, and for players to etch their names into the storied histories of these rivalries.
Atlanta United has a long history with the New York Red Bulls, as their first ever MLS game was a 2-1 loss tossss a Jesse Marsch-led side. Anton Walkes was charged with the game-winning own goal, and Carlos Carmona received a straight red card for stepping on Felipe Martins.
Since then the Red Bulls have had the upper hand in a series (5-1-2 overall) that has produced some instant MLS classics. Atlanta United’s sole win propelled them through 3-1 on aggregate in the 2018 Eastern Conference Championship. The Five Stripes won the MLS Cup that year (something the Red Bulls has never done) while the Red Bulls sat at home watching, despite winning the Supporters’ Shield for their third time.
The two teams will meet again this month with prize money, regular season points, a CONCACAF Champions league berth, and bragging rights on the line.
“We’re just excited to get back to playing soccer,” said Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra following the live MLS is Back tournament draw. “Obviously, we’ve had some good games against Red Bull lately.”
“The games are different without fans…but I don’t think we could meet Atlanta at a park with no one watching and it wouldn’t be heated,” said Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas. “We’re not scared, we love the challenge every single time. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve done well, we went after them in preseason too. There’ll be a lot going on in that game, it’ll be great.”
Atlanta United will be without star forward Josef Martinez after he sustained an ACL injury in week one of the season.
FC Cincinnati will avoid Martinez for the second time this season, and the undisputed underdogs will take any advantage they can obtain. FCC is the only team in Group E that is not undefeated heading into the tournament. In fact, Cincinnati has yet to record a point this season.
Finding a point won’t be easy for the second-year club in a group consisting of teams it has never beaten in MLS competition (0-5-2 overall). New York Red Bulls II even spoiled their fun in their final year of the USL Championships playoffs when they lost 1-0, at Nippert Stadium no less.
FC Cincinnati does have a fairytale victory over the Crew in the inaugural Hell is Real derby matchup, but it comes from the 2017 U.S. Open Cup when Djiby Fall scored a looping header into the top right corner to cement his status as cult hero. Ultimately, FCC lost in the semifinals to the Red Bulls in extra time.
The Crew will head into the tournament with heightened expectations after an impressive start to the season, and after a busy offseason that saw Caleb Porter’s squad revamp its roster with key additions such as Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan.
The new-look Crew opened the campaign with a win over New York City FC and draw against defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders, and while Atlanta United and the Red Bulls will garner the headlines as the group favorites, the Crew should also challenge for the top spot in Group E.
The matches will begin on July 8th with each team playing three group-stage matches. The top two teams from each group, along with the top-four third place finishers, will advance to the knockout stage which will include a Round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals, and final.