- The MLS returns on July 8 though it won’t be as we know it.
- Dubbed the MLS is Back Tournament, 25 of the league’s teams will battle it out in a “World Cup-style” tournament held at Walt Disney World in Florida that runs until August 11.
- Points in the group stages will count towards each teams regular season tally, while the overall winner will qualify for the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
- The regular MLS season will then resume upon the tournament’s completion.
- Ahead of kick off, Insider has produced a team-by-team rundown to get you up to speed.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On Wednesday July 8, four months after the 2020 season was halted amid the coronavirus pandemic, the MLS returns – though it won’t be as we know it.
Dubbed the MLS is Back Tournament, 25 of the division’s teams (FC Dallas has withdrawn after 10 players tested positive COVID-19) will battle it out in a “World Cup style” tournament held at Walt Disney World in Florida that runs until August 11.
Teams have been split into six groups, where they will each play three games in order to determine which 16 teams make it to the tournament’s knockout rounds.
Points in the group stages will count towards each teams regular season tally, while the winner of the knockout phase will qualify for the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
The regular MLS season will then resume upon the tournament’s completion.
Ahead of kick off, Insider has produced a group-by-group, team-by-team rundown to get you up to speed.
Group A (East)
2019 finish: 22nd
Player to watch: Nani, a former Manchester United winger who was the club’s top scorer last season.
The last time Orlando won an MLS game was in August 2019. While that period did of course encompass the winter break and the league’s stoppage amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s still 10 games for Oscar Pareja’s team without tasting victory.
One defeat and one draw in its opening two games of the 2020 season isn’t a promising sign that things will improve from last year.
2019 finish: N/A
Player to watch: Rodolfo Pizarro, Miami’s $US12 million record signing who joined from Mexican club Monterrey in February.
The MLS new boys haven’t had the start it would have hoped for having lost two out of two games so far.
However some smart acquisitions in the off-season – which include both division veterans such as Roman Torres and Lee Nyugen, and young talent such as Andres Reyes – should see it improve as time goes on, though it’s unlikely to challenge for any silverware just yet.
New York City FC
2019 finish: 2nd
Player to watch: Maxi Moralez, a tricky Argentine play maker who had the most assists (20) in the MLS last season.
New York was the Eastern Conference champ last year, losing just six of its 34 games.
However, after appointing ex-Celtic boss Ronny Deila as its new head coach in January, the Pigeons lost three of five pre-season games, and its first two of the 2020 MLS campaign.
The pressure is on for Deila to turn things around.
2019 finish: 5th
Player to watch: Andre Blake, a Jamaican goalkeeper who is “good enough to be in Europe” according to The Guardian.
The Union enjoyed its joint best ever Eastern Conference finish last year, ending the campaign in 3rd place and just three points off reigning champs Atlanta United.
A large part of that was thanks to the 15 goals of Polish striker Kacper Przybylko, who will be keen to get off the mark again early.
2019 finish: 17th
Player to watch: Alvaro Medran, a talented former Real Madrid youngster who joined Chicago from Valencia in October.
A new owner, a return to its historic Soldier Field, and a number of new signings means its a season of new beginnings for the Chicago Fire.
However with the club also having lost the experienced heads of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nicolas Gaitan, and Dax McCarty, the club’s fans will have to be patient for things to start coming together.
2019 finish: N/A
Player to watch: Walker Zimmerman, a classy central defender who has 12 caps for the USMNT.
Another one of the MLS’s newest expansion franchises, Nashville has built an experienced roster ahead of its inaugural season.
Walker Zimmerman, Dax McCarty, Anibal Godoy, Dominique Badji, Jalil Anibaba and David Accam have over 1000 MLS appearances between them, which could useful in helping steer Nashville through a tricky group.
Group B (West)
2019 finish: 4th (MLS Cup Winners)
Player to watch: Jordan Morris, a powerful left winger who has gone from strength to strength in recent seasons.
The task this time around for last season’s MLS Cup winners is fairly simple: do it again.
That is, of course, easier said than done, but with most of the club’s star players having stayed put, as well as some promising additions such as defender Emanuel Cecchini from Spanish side Malaga, Garth Lagerwey’s side is likely to be right up there once more.
2019 finish: 23rd
Player to watch: Hwang In-beom, a South Korean midfielder who showed glimpses of his talent in 2019.
The Whitecaps scored just 37 goals in 34 matches last season, which was the second worst total in the division ahead of only FC Cincinnati.
$US6 million record signing Lucas Cavallini has been brought in to fix the problem, but just five goals in the Mexican top flight for Puebla last term isn’t the most promising of returns.
San Jose Earthquakes
2019 finish: 15th
Player to watch: Chris Wondolowski, the MLS’ all time record goal scorer.
The Earthquakes had a promising first season under Matias Almeyda last term, but struggled for consistency and ended the campaign on a six game losing streak.
Almeyda has clear faith in his side however, having made just one new signing during the off-season in the form of winger Cristian Espinoza, who arrived from Villarreal.
Group C (East)
2019 finish: 9th
Player to watch: Alejandro Pozuelo, a classy Spanish playmaker who scored 14 times from midfielder last year.
2019 was a strange season for Toronto. Greg Vanney’s side enjoyed a strong start, tailed off woefully in the middle, then went undefeated in its final 10 games of the regular season to reach the MLS Cup, where it eventually lost in the final to Seattle.
Which Toronto will turn up this time is difficult to predict, but Vanney’s side have more than enough quality to compete again.
New England Revolution
2019 finish: 14th
Player to watch: Carles Gil, the former Valencia, Aston Villa, and Deportivo midfield maestro.
After former USMNT boss Bruce Arena took over as head coach midway through last season, the Revolution lost just three of its final 20 regular season games to reach to play-offs for the first time since 2015.
Expect that upward trajectory under Arena to continue this season.
2019 finish: 18th (Canadian Championship winner)
Player to watch: Bojan Krkic, the ex-FC Barcelona starlet once dubbed the “next Lionel Messi.”
Thierry Henry, who was appointed as Montreal’s head coach in November, is the man charged with turning things around for the club this season after a disappointing last campaign.
However, the Frenchman will have to do so without Ignacio Piatti, Montreal’s all-time leading goal scorer and assist-getter, who has left to see out the end of his career in Argentina with San Lorenzo.
2019 finish: 10th
Player to watch: Bill Hamid, the USMNT international goalkeeper who kept the joint highest number of clean sheets during the 2019 season.
The departures of Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta left a huge creative void for DC United ahead of the 2020 season.
Wingers Edison Flores and Yamil Asad, as well as Atlanta United midfield general Julian Gressel, have been bought in to plug the gap, though whether they can remains to be seen.
Group D (West)
Real Salt Lake
2019 finish: 6th
Player to watch: Albert Rusnak, a speedy Slovak winger whose hit 27 goals in the last three seasons for Salt Lake.
Freddy Juarez guided RSL to the play-offs last season, however he has a huge mountain to climb if he’s to do the same again this time around.
Salt Lake has lost a number of its key players, including Joao Plata, Luke Mulholland, and Danilo Acosta. Most notable however is the departure of goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who has been the club’s number one shot stopper for over a decade.
Sporting Kansas City
2019 finish: 21st
Player to watch: Alan Pulido, Liga MX’s 2019 Apertura Golden Boot winner who signed for $US9.7 million in December.
Sporting Kansas City endured its worst ever regular season finish in history last term, missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
A productive off-season however, which included the club record signing of Mexican striker Pulido and the additions of experienced defenders Roberto Puncec and Winston Reid, suggests that is unlikely to happen again.
2019 finish: 16th
Player to watch: Kei Kamara, a veteran striker who needs just 19 goals to become the MLS’ second-highest scorer ever.
The Rapids conceded a dismal 63 goals last term, the third highest total in the division. To fix the problem, its brought in 21-year-old Auston Trusty from the Philadelphia Union and Drew Moor, 36 from Toronto FC.
Having also added extra firepower in the form of Argentine forward Braian Galvan and French winger Nicolas Benezet, Robin Fraser’s side could turn heads.
2019 finish: 7th
Player to watch: Ike Opara, a colossal centre back who is a huge attacking threat at set pieces.
Minnesota enjoyed its best ever MLS finish last term, and its two games before the league was halted this year suggests more of the same is to come.
Adrian Heath’s beat the Portland Timbers 3-1, before smashing the San Jose Earthquakes 5-2, both games in which new loan star Luis Amarilla was on the score sheet.
Group E (East)
2019 finish: 3rd (US Open Cup winner)
Player to watch: Josef Martinez, a brilliant, bullish Venezuelan striker.
Manager Frank de Boer had a mixed first season at Atlanta, and after a number of departures during the off-season, the Dutchman is on for an even bigger challenge this term.
Longtime captain Michael Parkhurst retired, while regular starters Darlington Nagbe, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, and Hector Villalba all left for new clubs.
That isn’t to say Atlanta is now lacking in talent however – it still has two of the division’s best players on its books in the form of Josef Martinez and Gonzalo Martinez.
2019 finish: 24th
Player to watch: Allan Cruz, a Costa Rican midfielder who was Cincinnati’s only bright spark in a disappointing last campaign.
Three different managers, just 17 points from its final 30 games, and the most goals ever shipped in an MLS season (75) made 2019 a year to forget for Cincinnati.
Fortunately (or at least its fans will hope so), the only way is up. The additions of Dutch duo Jurgen Locadia and Siem de Jong, both of whom have played in Europe’s top leagues, should help.
New York Red Bulls
2019 finish: 12th
Player to watch: Aaron Long, a USMNT central defender who has been linked with a move to the English Premier League, according to MLS Soccer.
Having lost club legends Bradley Wright-Phillips, Luis Robles, and Kemar Lawrence in the off-season, and subsequently failed to replace them, 2020 will likely prove to be a difficult season for the Red Bulls.
Fortunately, Insider voted the club as having the best jersey in the division this term. Every cloud.
2019 finish: 20th
Player to watch: Lucas Zelarayan, Columbus’ $US7 million record signing.
The Crew is the team to watch this season after an extremely productive off-season that saw it acquire midfielder Darlington Nagbe from Atalanta United, Dutch defender Vito Wormgoor from SK Brann, and fullback Fanendo Adi from Cincinnati.
The pick of the bunch of Columbus’ signings however is 28-year-old Argentine play maker Lucas Zelarayan, who scored the match winning goal on his debut against New York City in March.
Group F (West)
Los Angeles FC
2019 finish: 1st (Supporters’ Shield winner)
Player to watch: Diego Rossi, a pacy Uruguayan winger who Insider had the pleasure of speaking to last year.
The 2019 season’s best team by some way, LAFC will be without its star player, Carlos Vela, for the MLS is Back Tournament.
The Mexican play maker, who was last term’s Most Valuable Player and top scorer, has withdrawn from competition to remain at home with his pregnant wife Saioa, according to the LA Times.
While he’ll be missed however, LA still has more than enough quality all around the park to challenge for the title.
2019 finish: 8th
Player to watch: Need we say?
Two words. Javier. Hernandez. Signed to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who left for AC Milan, the Mexican striker is expected to set the MLS alight.
Given the right service from the excellent Christian Pavon and newly signed Aleksandar Katai, the former Manchester United striker will be one of the most exciting players in the MLS.
2019 finish: 19th
Player to watch: Alberth Elis, a flying winger who has produced 20 goals and 20 assists over the past two seasons.
With Houston failing to make any major transfers, the club will instead rely on its new manager, Tab Ramos, to help improve on last season.
Ramos arrives at the BBVA Stadium with an excellent reputation, forged during a near decade at the helm of the USMNT under-20 side. This is his first shot at the big time, meaning it could take him some time to adapt.
2019 finish: 11th
Player to watch:
Hanging onto Diego Valeri after long standing rumours about his future was a huge coup for the Timbers.
The club has also added winger Yimmi Chara, brother of current Timber Diego Chara, and Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Poland’s top scorer last year, to its roster as its look to recapture the magic of its 2018 MLS Cup triumph.
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