Preview- MLS is Back, despite a world-wide pandemic. Well, a pandemic that most of the world has seemed to have undercontrol. It seems fitting for Major League Soccer to continue on in the chaos that surrounds the rest of the country. Speaking of Chaos, Group E stands to be one of the more unpredictable, chaotic groups in the Tournament.
MLS is Back Group E Preview
Columbus Crew SC
The Crew started out the season with a 1-0 win against NYCFC, and 1-1 draw in Seattle before play was halted in mid-march. Caleb Porter’s second season stands to be much more promising, as the club has added a large amount of quality around the squad. Their biggest improvement is in the midfield with the addition of Darlington Nagbe, and Lucas Zelarayán. This team is the healthiest of any team in the group, and outside of Atlanta United, has one of the more complete rosters. Look for them to be methodical in the attack, but lethal in the final third.
Atlanta United FC
If Atlanta United had Josef Martinez healthy and ready to go, they’d easily be the favorites. But, the lack of a true striker option up top leaves plenty of questions for the “Five Stripes.” They have a strong, strong midfield, and a solid backline, but questions are still going to remain about the squad’s overall chance at success. Martinez was the main reason they surged hard after a rough start under Frank de Boer. His tactics have been a hot button for many Atlanta United fans, and if they struggle in this tournament, the burner under his seat will start to get turned up.
New York Red Bulls
RBNY has become unrecognizable over the last couple of years. As their key players have moved on or gotten older, they haven’t exactly replaced them like for like. It’s very difficult to pinpoint what this team is going to look like. Josh Sims was a major positive, but has since returned to Southampton in England because of the pandemic, and they also sold their two best full-backs. Their biggest addition might actually be a healthy Florian Valot, who has missed time over the last two seasons due to two major injuries sustained in nasty challenges. Brian White, Kaku, and Daniel Royer are their three most important players in attack. Their best hope for success is going to be consistent production in attack while Tim Parker and Aaron Long hold down the fort in front of Ryan Meara.
No MLS team has had a more difficult start to life than FCC. They’ve gone through three managers in less than two seasons and were one of the absolute worst defensive teams in MLS history in their only full season. The addition of Jurgen Locadia looks great in attack and Haris Mendunjanin is a wonderful addition in the midfield. The addition of Yuya Kubo and Siem de Jong also help make the attack of FCC much more potent than last season. This team might be better built for success in a short-lived tournament setting than over the long haul. But taking into consideration the strength of the other teams in the group, FC Cincinnati’s success shouldn’t be based on whether or not they get out of the group.
Group E Predictions
I wholeheartedly expect Atlanta United and the Columbus Crew to get out of the group. The question will be whether or not any team in the group will be able to take a wild card spot to advance to the Round of 16. I will go out on a limb and say we’ll end up with a surprise in this group, and only one of Atlanta and Columbus will finish in the top 2, with FC Cincinnati rounding out the top 2. Why? “Team Chaos” rules MLS, and in these chaotic times, it’s only fitting that the expected punching bag of the group ends up advancing at the expense of a “favorite.”
Group E play begins Saturday, July 11th, at 8pm EST for RBNY vs. Atlanta United, followed by the Hell is Real Derby at 10:30 pm EST.