Well, it’s been a bit since we’ve done this, so forgive the rust, but MLS is, indeed, back. The MLS Is Back Tournament kicked off Wednesday and has so far gone off without a hitch (hang on, wait, a cluster of FC Dallas and Nashville SC players contracted coronavirus and both clubs are now ineligible for the competition?
OK, let’s try again.)
Well, it’s been a bit since we’ve done this, so forgive the rust, but MLS is, indeed, back.
The MLS Is Back Tournament kicked off Wednesday and has already had its share of storylines. Prior to the opener, players gathered for a powerful #BlackLivesMatter ceremony that provided lasting images that will be remembered long after the competition is done. Then, play started, and the night ended with Nani pushing hosts Orlando City past Inter Miami CF to max points through a stoppage-time goal and Luis Robles calling out officiating during the postmatch press conference.
Yep, MLS is back indeed. (Overshadowing the result was a scary injury to Miami’s Andres Reyes; thankfully, he is OK.)
On Saturday, Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls kick off Group E action on big FOX. This is probably the part where I mention that Atlanta have never defeated RBNY in the regular season, but since this is a tournament setting (although, technically, it is the regular season and the result counts toward point totals), that stat doesn’t apply, right? Ben Cork from Once A Metro was kind enough to take a few minutes to help us get a sense of the mood on the Red Bulls’ side of things.
1. It’s been a long lay-off due to the coronavirus, but the MLS Is Back Tournament is in full swing. What is your personal feeling going into the first few days of the competition?
Personally, I just want to see the tournament go forward and be completed with minimal complications for league personnel and their surroundings. If there turns out to be some great soccer, then fantastic - but I’m not holding my breath. For the Red Bulls it feels like a difficult situation given that it is a squad in transition with many new faces that will not receive a proper competitive test, but of course this is better than having nothing to play for at all.
2. How tough will it be for RBNY to get back into match fitness? Like everyone else, they haven’t played in months, so I’d imagine there will be some kinks to work out.
It is hard to say. Red Bull has a reputation for top quality athletic training and building a rigorous fitness culture in the squad, so I imagine the players are about as well-conditioned as you can be physically given the context of the last few months. Actual match fitness will be tougher, especially with the team adjusting to a somewhat overhauled squad (longtime starters such as Bradley Wright-Phillips, Kemar Lawrence, and Luis Robles are gone) as well as a new 4-4-2 formation. Hopefully the straight-forward nature of the team’s high-tempo pressing style will help compensate for any technical rustiness.
3. A few familiar faces are gone from the roster that were around last year. Who should we be keeping an eye on going into the tournament, and who will be key to bringing the trophy home when it’s all said and done?
Red Bull fans themselves will be interested to get their first looks at newly signed European fullbacks Mandela Egbo and Jason Pendant, who were both signed shortly before the suspension of play. Additionally, the continued progress of attacking midfielder Florian Valot as he returns from two years of devastating knee injuries could also be pivotal for the effectiveness of RBNY on Saturday and throughout this month. And don’t forget about Kaku, the team’s mercurial number 10 whose incisive passing and energetic pressing gives the team an nearly-unstoppable engine when on form.