The 2020 MLS is Back Tournament kicks off this week with Group A featuring two of the top teams the Eastern Conference has to offer.
NYCFC and the Philadelphia Union come into this tournament off strong 2019 seasons, but failed to show their true potential in the opening two matches of the 2020 regular season. Picked as favorites to advance from the six-team group in Orlando, both NYCFC and the Union will square off on Matchday 2, which could be the decider to who gets a leg up in the group.
Orlando City and Inter Miami begin a newly-found rivalry with both teams seeking to make a strong impression in the tournament. Both Florida teams failed to win earlier this calendar year, but will be in the mix for the third and final qualification spot into the knockout stage.
The Chicago Fire and Nashville SC are likely to round out the group, with both teams having many issues to fix in short time. Both teams may pick up a win, but will find it tough to advance with NYCFC and the Union leading the way.
Here’s a closer look at Group A:
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami, 8 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN Deportes)
Nashville SC vs. Chicago Fire (match postponed, new date TBD)
NYCFC vs. Philadelphia Union, 9 a.m. (ESPN/ESPN Deportes)
Inter Miami vs. Chicago Fire, 9 a.m. (ESPN/ESPN Deportes)
Philadelphia Union vs. Nashville SC, 8 p.m. (TUDN)
Orlando City vs. NYCFC, 10:30 p.m. (TUDN)
NYCFC vs. Chicago Fire, 8 p.m. (FS1 & TUDN)
Philadelphia Union vs. Inter Miami 10:30 p.m. (FS1 & TUDN)
July 20: Orlando City vs. Nashville SC, 9 a.m. (ESPN/ESPN Deportes)
New York City FC
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Alex Ring, Sean Johnson, Heber, Maxi Moralez,
MISSING PLAYERS: None.
OUTLOOK: NYCFC will be favorites to win this group with plenty of top players to choose from in every part of the field. Alex Ring and Keaton Parks are a solid 1-2 tandem in midfield, allowing Heber, Maxi Moralez, and Valentin Castellanos to run free. Sean Johnson is also a top goalkeeper while James Sands is a thriving young talent in the backline.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Brenden Aaronson, Alejandro Bedoya, Andre Blake, Kacper Przybylko, Mark McKenzie.
MISSING PLAYERS: Cory Burke (Visa issues).
OUTLOOK: Jim Curtin’s side has a good mix of players and will give NYCFC all they can handle to claim the top spot in the group. A Matchday 2 meeting against their East Coast rivals could be the deciding match between the two sides, a rivalry which NYCFC has owned over the last few years. Brenden Aaronson and Alejandro Bedoya star in Philly’s midfield, while Kacper Przybylko is the main man up top.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Rodolfo Pizarro, Luis Robles, Nicolas Figal, Wil Trapp, Matias Pellegrini.
MISSING PLAYERS: Robbie Robinson (Injury).
OUTLOOK: Inter Miami may have lost both of its regular season matches, but should have enough to finish third in this group. With a mixture of MLS veterans paired with new talent to the league, Diego Alonso’s side has a strong chance to advance. Having a healthy Pellegrini to partner with Pizarro’s playmaking should help Inter Miami’s attack look more dangerous than it did at the start of the season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Nani, Pedro Gallese, Dom Dwyer, Chris Mueller, Junior Urso.
MISSING PLAYERS: None.
OUTLOOK: Orlando City may be the hosts of the tournament, but the Lions weren’t handed any gifts from MLS when paired in a tough group. The Lions only scored one goal in their two regular season matches back in the Spring and will be forced to score in bunches for any chance of advancing. Portuguese veteran Nani leads the way, but the former Manchester United man will need some help for the Lions to spoil the party.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Robert Beric, Djordje Mihailovic, C.J. Sapong, Alvaro Medran, Francisco Calvo.
PLAYERS MISSING: None.
OUTLOOK: The Chicago Fire also failed to win in their opening matches of the regular season and will need to start strong in group stage play. Djordje Mihailovic and Alvaro Medran will run the show in midfield while C.J. Sapong and Robert Beric headlines the attack. An average-at-best backline though could spell trouble for Raphael Wicky’s bunch.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: David Accam, Hany Mukhtar, Abu Danladi, Daniel Lovitz, Walker Zimmerman.
PLAYERS MISSING: None.
OUTLOOK: Nashville lost its first two matches in MLS and still has plenty of work to do to get out of this six-team group. Offensively, Hany Mukhtar will direct the playmaking, but will need help from veteran players such as Dax McCarty and David Accam. Gary Smith’s side cannot effort to fall behind with only three group stage matches either.
SBI Group Prediction
1. NYCFC. Overall, this is the best all-around team in the group and should edge the Union to a first-place finish.
2. Philadelphia Union. Jim Curtin’s team should give NYCFC a run for the top spot in the group.
3. Inter Miami. Inter Miami showed positive signs earlier this year and could be one of the surprises of the tournament.
4. Orlando City. Outside of Nani, the Lions don’t pose much when it comes to offensive threats.
5. Chicago Fire. Chicago has enough to finish higher than Nashville, but that’s where it ends.
6.) Nashville SC. The expansion side will face two of the top Eastern Conference teams, making it difficult to advance.
Who do you see winning Group A? Which matchup are you most looking forward to watching?
Share your thoughts below.