MN United

Analyzing Minnesota United's "MLS is Back" Tournament Group

Photo credit: Ben Ludeman (USA TODAY Sports)

On Wednesday it was confirmed that all 26 MLS teams would descend upon the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando for the “MLS is Back” Tournament starting July 8 and running through August 11.

The event has more implications than just a trophy or bragging rights, as the group stage match points will count towards the regular season total, and all indications are that a continuation of the 2020 season will take place after the tournament is complete.

The tournament champion also receives an automatic bid to the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League, which pits the best club teams in North and Central America against each other.

Teams were grouped within their own conference, with each holding three groups. All groups would include four teams, except for the host Orlando City’s, which has six teams.

The top two teams from each group will advance to the Round of 16 along with the top two third place squads from each conference.

Orlando, Atlanta, NYCFC, Seattle, LAFC and Real Salt Lake all were given top seeds for their respective groups, which were filled Thursday via random draw.

After the draw was all said and done, Minnesota United FC found themselves in Real Salt Lake’s Group D along with Sporting KC and Colorado Rapids. While there may be a bit of resistance within this particular group, the Loons were just one selection away from being added to the dreaded Group F, which features LAFC, LA Galaxy, Houston and Portland.

group d opponents

Sporting KC

Between the U.S. Open Cup and now MLS is Back, Minnesota and Sporting KC have faced each other frequently and are developing a budding rivalry.

Although they struggled last season, the “nice rivals” in Kansas City are just a year removed from their lengthy eight-year playoff streak in MLS and have a tournament pedigree among the best in American soccer. Minnesota, however, owns the more recent head-to-head tournament success, coming away with a decisive 4-1 win in the early rounds of the 2019 U.S. Open Cup.

It’s likely you can throw all of those trends out the window in this scenario. Rust could and likely will play a huge factor, causing fatigue and leveling the playing field

Colorado Rapids

After dismal campaigns in both 2017 and 2018 and a coaching change after going winless in their first 11 matches last year, Colorado finished its 2019 campaign on an extremely positive note, leaving supporters optimistic about the outlook for 2020. The Rapids even started this year with two wins before the season was halted.

The Loons traded 1-0 decisions with Colorado last year, but even with the Rapids’ upward trajectory, Minnesota will head into MLS is Back as the better team on paper. However, Colorado could hold the ultimate advantage, as they’re the first team in this group to return to full team practices.

Real Salt Lake

RSL earned a top group seed by being the remaining Western Conference team with the best record outside of the top two.

The Loons fared extremely well against Salt Lake last year, following up a 1-1 draw with a 3-1 victory. Minnesota will need to play into that momentum, as this matchup could determine whether or not they’ll advance to the knockout stage.

Not only is RSL already a tough matchup, but much like Colorado, they’ve begun full team practices before the Loons as well.

Minnesota potentially carries an advantage in this condensed format with its depth and flexibility within the roster, but there’s also a rule adjustment in this tourney that works to the Loons advantage: the “five-sub rule.”

This means that instead of the normal three allotted substitutions for each team in a given match, teams in this tournament can bring on up to five substitutes. With depth and talent we’ve yet to see waiting in store for the Loons, more subs could be an x-factor in helping Minnesota find success in this format.

There is no word yet on specific match-up dates and times.

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Photo credit: Ben Ludeman (USA TODAY Sports)

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