As we countdown the days to the start of the MLS is Back Tournament, Philly Sports Network will preview each of the six groups. Here is a preview of Group C.
Each team will play the other three to see who makes it out of Group C to the knockout rounds. The top two teams with the most points form the three matches will automatically make it to the knockout rounds. The team that finishes in third-place has a shot to make it as well if they are one of the top three third-place teams in the whole field of the tournament. Now let’s look at the four teams in Group C.
DC United take on Toronto FC to start the tournament, then the New England Revolution and end the group stage with the Montreal Impact. DC was once the super-team of MLS. In the last few years while they have not made it far in the playoffs, DC has looked a formidable side. In 2019 they finished in fifth place on 50 points. Now in the MLS is Back Tournament they are looking to find their old winning ways.
Three Things to Watch
- Will their defense be formidable?
DC United are talented, but when it comes to their ability to defend in important matches, they tend to fall short. Frédéric Brillant and Steven Birnbaum are formidable centerbacks, but they sometimes get turned around at the worst of moments. Last season in big matches DC allowed more than three goals more than once. The worst was in the 2019 playoffs against Toronto FC where they lost 5-1. Can they redeem themselves in this tournament? We’ll have to wait and see.
- Will Gressel and Flores be the creative spark?
DC brought in versatile MLS player Julian Gressel and designated player Edison Flores. Both can be the creative spark that takes a team from good to great. At the start of the 2020 season, Gressel was playing as the playmaking attacking midfielder and Flores was on the right flank. In this unprecedented tournament style with a long layoff, one might see changes in information. This may lead to bringing Flores central and pushing Gressel to more of a wingback role. This would lead to Flores being in better positions to spark chances, while Gressel will be able to use his speed to exploit space behind the defense on the wings. Look for both of these players to play a pivotal role for DC United in this tournament.
- Can DC get back to their winning ways in this tournament?
This is the question that has been asked year over year. This time around, there is this situation that provides something different. A tournament setting allows for a honed-in focus on a few matches. Could this play a factor for DC United? Maybe only having a few matches will allow them to hyperfocus on the goal at hand, winning this tournament.
Montreal takes on New England Revolution to kick off the tournament, then Toronto FC and finish off with DC United. The Impact failed to do just that in 2019 as they missed the playoffs by just four points. This offseason, the club made a splash by signing Thierry Henry as the clubs he’sd coach. Montreal did do well enough to make the CONCACAF Champions League, and in that competition, Henry showed how his team will play. They played very well, and this carried over to the start of the 2020 season, where they took four points from two matches. Can they keep this momentum going forward in the MLS is Back Tournament?
Three Things to Watch
- A Unique style of play
Montreal displayed an interesting style of play in their limited matches in 2020. They play a 3-4-3 that almost looks like a 3-4-2-1. This allows for the team to have numbers in counter-attacking situations. This is how Montreal structured their team to be compact in defense and then spring into attacks when they turned over their opposition.
- A three-headed attack
In their interesting style of play, a three-headed attack emerged. A striker the likes of Bojan lead their line, with Maximiliano Urruti and Romell Quioto flanking him to create a triangle of attacking players. This allowed for interchange in the attack that made defenders scratch their heads trying to figure out how to stop them. Quioto’s speed, Urruti’s skill, and Bojan’s class is certainly a three-headed monster that the other teams in Group C will have to find ways to slow down.
- The Henry effect
Thiery Henry has already had an effect on this team, now he turns his attention to a tournament style of play that he has experience with. The World Cup veteran as a player with France and a coach with Belgium will now be at the helm to lead a team towards success in a similar tournament setting. Can he get it done? Only time will tell, but his pedigree in this tournament format gives him an edge!
New England Revolution
New England starts the group stage by taking on Montreal, then play DC United and end with Toronto FC. New England has fallen off from its winning form of years past but was able to make the playoffs in 2019 as the last team to make it. Under Bruce Arena, this team looks like one that could make a run in a tournament setting. In 2020, they are looking for even more success to build off their turnaround in 2019.
Three Things to Watch
- Bruce Arena structure
Bruce Arena came into New England in 2019 and he had an immediate impact. With a full offseason of preparation, and now an extended layoff leading into a tournament setting could pay dividends for New England. Bruce will have his team structured a certain way, hopefully the structure is one that is set to help their defense.
- Sketchy defense
The main issue facing New England is their defense. New England allowed 57 goals last season, which is seven more goals than they scored in 2019. Can this group of defenders get the job done in a tournament setting? Anything can happen, but they do not inspire confidence as of now.
- Gustavo Bou for MVP?
Bou had a great first season in MLS. He played in 15 matches and scored 9 goals and one assist. Could he be the lynchpin for New England’s attack in this tournament setting? He has the talent to put this team on his back and move them forward by his sheer will. If he does this he could be the MVP of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Toronto FC take on DC United, then Montreal Impact and complete their group stage with New England Revolution. Toronto look like the favorite in this group. In 2019, Toronto FC finished fourth in the east, and they made a run in the playoffs to make it all the way to MLS Cup. They fell short losing to Seattle, but could this recent success lead to success in this tournament?
Three Things to Watch
- A strong Defense
One thing that Toronto has going for them is a very strong defense. Lead by Justin Morrow, Omar González and Chris Mavinga, this team is sure up from the back, which allows for those in front of them to have confidence that fires will be put out when needed. A strong defensive structure is needed in a tournament like this. Could it propel Toronto to the trophy?
- Aging designated players
When one thinks of Toronto FC of recent years some players standout. The American veteran players Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley have been with the club for five years now. They brought a championship to Toronto in 2017 and went to two other MLS Cups. While they are the backbone of this team, they are aging. Altidore and Bradley both have had injury concerns. Will they be able to play a huge factor in this tournament or will it have to be other players turn?
- Pozuelo and Piatti the new stars
While Altidore and Bradley are what people think of when looking at this team, the stars of the club moving forward are Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti. Pozuelo’s first season with TFC was last year; he played 34 matches scoring 14 goals and notching 10 assists. He is the star that we know. Pablo Piatti is new to Toronto. He is primed to make his debut for Toronto in this upcoming tournament. The two of these players together could see TFC hoisting another cup!
Group C has rivalries and all-around good matches.. Look for that to make its way into these group stage matches! The first matches in this group kick off on July 9th!
To learn more about the MLS is Back Tournament, check out our in-depth article on the tournament:
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Mandatory Credit: Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports