For the Seattle Sounders, their Group B matchups in the upcoming MLS is Back Tournament not only presents a tough task ahead but plenty of familiar foes on their quest for more silverware.
The defending MLS Cup champions started the season on the right foot, winning and drawing their first two games before the 2020 regular season was halted on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, the Sounders were paired with Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes in Group B of this summer’s return-to-play competition, which will take place in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
The draw is a challenging one, but it is one Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson believes his team is ready to embrace.
“It’s a tough group,” said Henderson. “Some rivalry games for sure and some history between the clubs. We’re looking forward to getting starting again. November and MLS Cup seem like a long time ago. We’re looking forward to getting to the warm weather, adjusting, and excited to be playing again.”
The Whitecaps finished as the second-worst team during the 2019 MLS season, posting an 8-16-10 record with 34 points at the bottom of the Western Conference.
This season, though, despite opening the season to a 3-1 loss at home to Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver was able to pull a 1-0 victory on the road against the LA Galaxy before the season was postponed.
For Vancouver head coach Marc Dos Santos, however, he also acknowledged how the tough the group will be, even admitting he wanted the Whitecaps to draw either the Sounders or the Portland Timbers.
“We were very glad that we ended up in a group where it’s incredibly balanced, any of the four teams can qualify,” said Dos Santos. “It’s good also for our fans that we ended up in a group with Seattle or Portland, we wanted that.”
“Whoever is that first game we have to be ready. For our fans, I hope our first game is against Seattle.”
It still remains unclear when the 2020 Major League Soccer regular season will resume after this summer’s MLS is Back Tournament.
For FC Dallas, next month will be an opportunity to avenge their first-round 2019 MLS Cup playoff loss to the Sounders, who FC Dallas has faced in the MLS playoffs in four of the past six seasons (winning just once, in 2015).
Luchi Gonzalez’s team started the 2020 season with a win and a draw — both at home — against Eastern conference sides Philadelphia Union and Montreal Union before the regular season came to a halt.
Dallas defender Ryan Hollingshead expressed earlier before the draw the excitement there is for MLS’s return-to-play competition.
“It’s exciting, obviously there’s a lot coming up,” said Hollingshead. “I think for MLS, it’s going to be a huge chance for the league to even make their name more broadly known.”
The San Jose Earthquakes would probably look at this competition as an opportunity to start on a clean slate after opening the 2020 campaign winless.
After missing out on the playoffs last year under Matias Almeyda at the helm, the Earthquakes carried their losing ways into the 2020 season.
San Jose drew Toronto FC 2-2 on Feb. 29 before getting thrashed 5-2 to Minnesota United on March 7 — both games at home — before the season came to a standstill.
The full schedule of all six groups will be announced at a later date, but the top two teams from each group along with the four best third-place finishers will advance to the knockout stage of the MLS is Back Tournament.