How #MLSIsBack is shaping up for Orlando City
Updated: Jun 29
When and where will the tournament get underway?
MLS Is Back will be taking place in our own city (well just outside of it), at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Walt Disney World Resort in neighbouring Lake Buena Vista beginning on July 8th.
So what exactly is this tournament?
The tournament, which will be played behind closed doors, encapsulates a unique way for MLS to resume its 25th season under these unprecedented circumstances. Group stage matches will count against the MLS regular season standings. So, 3 points in the group stages translates to 3 points towards that teams' regular season total. MLS' plan is to get back to regular season action, following the conclusion of this tournament. Finally, the tournament winner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.
How can I tune in to the action?
For the tournament opener against Inter Miami kick off is set for 8 p.m. ET (1 a.m. GMT on the 9th) on July 8 with the match set to be broadcast on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and TSN. The game against New York City FC is on Tuesday, July 14 at 10:30 p.m. ET (3.30 a.m. GMT on the 15th). This game will be broadcast on TUDN and TSN in the US. And finally (for the group stages anyway) Orlando close out the tournament on Monday 20 at 9 a.m. ET (2 p.m. GMT) against expansion side Nashville SC, who have been moved to the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the 2020 MLS season. This game will be broadcast in the US on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and TSN.
Select matches will also be shown globally via MLS partner networks (that's FreeSports and Sky Sports for us UK folk). Check local listings for more information.
How are Orlando City shaping up?
The enforced break will have undoubtedly come at a frustrating time for the Lions. A promising, and sprightly performance in the 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake on opening day, was followed by a disappointing late defeat in Denver against the Rapids.
On the plus side, the Lions have been able to get Dom Dwyer back to something resembling full fitness, and will also be able to call upon the services of their talismanic skipper. Luis Nani. Nani missed the first two games of the regular season, through a suspension carried over from 2019. Oscar Pareja is in his first year with the club and made several impressive moves during the off-season, bringing in the likes of Pedro Gallese and Junior Urso.
As the tournament hosts, the City have been seeded at the top of group A, the only group in the whole tournament that is made up of six teams in total - Orlando City SC, Inter Miami CF, Chicago Fire FC, Philadelphia Union, Nashville SC and New York City FC. Due group A being a much larger group than the rest, MLS has announced that the top three finishers in Group A will advance to the Knockout Stage presented by Audi, along with the top two teams advancing from the other five groups. In addition the three best third-place finishers will also advance.
With 12 goals and 10 assists from 26 starts and 4 substitute appearances in 2019, it's easy to see why Nani is this team's key man. The former Manchester United winger was coming off the back of playing the first half of the european season for Sporting CP, fatigue became an issue towards the end of 2019 as a result. He still managed to feature in 85% of City's MLS games. Nani is a leader in every sense of the word, and he will have to be on form if Orlando are to run deep into this tournament.
What of our opponents?
Inter Miami CF
David Beckham's mob from down the road are something of an unknown quantity. There are lots of interesting caveats to this game. It's the first in the rivalry series, it's the first game of the tournament and subsequently the first since quarantine began. They have also signed former Lion Brek Shea, following his release from Atlanta. With Miami being an expansion side also, it adds to the unpredictability of this game.
Miami have been able to assemble a decent looking roster. They have plenty of MLS experience with the likes of A.J. DeLaGarza, Will Trapp and Roman Torres. Rudolfo Pizarro is the standout name on this team, however. They have managed to ensure they have depth all over the pitch, and in manager Diego Alonso they have a 2019 CCL winner.
Defeats in their opening 2 games left something of a bitter taste in the mouth for Miami supporters. They were no doubt buoyed by the first goal in club history just before the break. This team has all the ingredients on the field to be successful. Dangerous opponent.
DP Pizarro is arguably Miami's main man. The Mexican is the archetypal number 10, someone who plays between the lines and has the poise to pick out passes others simply do not see. The Uruguayan also has a keen eye for goal having netted 13 in 45 for Guadalajara and 8 in 51 for Monterrey. Pizarro is also responsible for Miami's first, and this far only, goal in MLS history. He knows the current Miami head coach well, as both were part of the Monterrey set up that won the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. Miami will be hoping that he is able to bring that winning mentality to Mi- I mean, Fort Lauderdale.
NYCFC topped the Eastern conference standings in 2019, before ultimately falling in the conference semi-finals for the MLS Cup play-offs. Former Celtic boss Ronny Deila will be keen to build on last season, heading into the MLS Is Back tournament. NYC scored an impressive 63 goals on their way to topping the Eastern conference. They are a side that shares the goal scoring load well, allaying early season concerns about a lack of depth at striker. Héber and Mitriță led the charge at 15 and 13 goals apiece, with Castellanos (11), Moralez (7) and Tajouri-Shradi (7) also weighing in with goals. This club is capable of scoring goals from all over the pitch.
NYCFC arguably have one of the toughest runs in the tournament with games against Philadelphia and Chicago either side of their game with us. Yes, I am implying we are a tough opponent. I'm being optimistic. Sort of.
Moralez is possibly one of the best attacking midfield players in MLS, and for me he is the glue that holds this attack together. Equally adept at carrying the ball into dangerous areas as he is picking out a pass. His tally of 29 assists last season backs that up. He also has a keen eye for goal, having plundered 20 in 92 appearances since arriving in the Big Apple. The Argentine has had success in the Argentine Primera División and the Italian Serie A during his career so far, and has thus far established himself as one of the top players in MLS. Expect him to have a big tournament.
Much like Inter Miami, Nashville are largely an unknown quantity. Which makes them a tricky opponent. Nashville have assembled a squad packed with MLS experience though, with the likes of David Accam and Walker Zimmerman making the move to Tennessee. Dax McCarty also joined from Chicago Fire during the off-season. And with former Dynamo keeper Joe Willis between the sticks, the team have a strong spine. They will be focused on making themselves hard to beat. And with the likes of Daniel Rios and Dominique Badji competing for starting berths, they have goals in them.
The acquisition of USMNT defender Walker Zimmerman was rightly seen as astute bit of business when he signed from LAFC during the winter. The former Dallas defender is a defensive stalwart. He is a solid defender, who is as good in the air as he is on the deck. He strengthens an already strong spine for this team. He will also go down in history as scoring the first goal in Nashville's MLS history in their opening day defeat to Atlanta.