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 D.
Each team will play the other three to see who makes it out of Group D to make it 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.
The matches are set, now is the time to preview how all the teams in Group D will fare.
Colorado takes Real Salt Lake, then Kansas City and ends the group stage with Minnesota United. The Rapids are a team of youngsters, and MLS veterans, this team one that has the pieces to compete in 2020. This is exactly what they were doing in the early stages of the current season. They took six points from their two matches. head Coach Robin Fraiser had his team flying on all cylinders, will they be able to carry that momentum into the MLS is Back Tournament?
Three Things to Watch
- Hungry young players
The essence of the Rapids is youthful. This is something that allows for more of a bounce-back in a tournament in the heat of Orlando. Colorado’s core players are the likes of Kellyn Acosta, Lalas Abubakar, Jonathan Lewis, Keegan Rosenberry, Diego Rubio, and Andre Shinyashiki. This company can propel them to glory if they are hungry enough to outlast the opposition.
- Could Kei Kamara win the Golden Boot?
Striker Kei Kamara is 35 years old, but he still bags goals at will. He leads Colorado’s line, and there is a real shot that he could win the scoring title. He has scored 28 goals in the past two seasons, and his ability to finish in all sorts of situations makes him the dangerous player he is. Could he keep this scoring trend going in this tournament style of play? If he does the Rapids may go far!
- Coaching is key to going far in a tournament
Robin Fraiser has been at the helm of Colorado for almost a full year, and the turn around that this club has made under him is astonishing. After he took the lead, Colorado went from the bottom of the west in 2019 to almost securing a playoff place. His style of play could have his team play their way out of the group and possibly could take them far in this competition.
Minnesota United FC
The Loons take on Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids. Minnesota United has created a good team from the shambles it was in after its first season. In 2019, Minnesota finished fourth in the west on 53 points. After failing to win a playoff game last year, they started their 2020 season perfect with two wins. Even more perfect was that they scored eight goals in those two matches. Could this tournament be another launch point for this squad?
Three Things to Watch
- No Ike Opara
Before a ball will even be kicked by a Loons player, they will be without veteran centerback Ike Opara. Opara won defender of the year in 2019 and was paramount in Minnesota’s ability to defend and organize the team. A pre-existing condition is keeping him from playing in this tournament, and now Minnesota United will need to find new ways to keep opponents from scoring.
- Organizing through the midfield
Minnesota is very organized in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Their midfield five was responsible for the team’s fast start to the 2020 season. Consistency in this midfield was key. A defensive midfield pairing of Osvaldo Alonso and Jan Gregus locked things down, while the attacking midfield three of Robin Lod, Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay provided impressive attacking sequences. The ability to have this consistency and organization from the midfield could pay dividends in this tournament.
- Will Mason Toye play a role?
Mason Toye is an impressive young striker who seemed to have a breakout season scoring six goals in 17 matches. Come 2020, the consensus was that Toye would be the starting striker for the Loons. This was not the case. Luis Amarilla started both matches and tallied two goals and an assist. Amarilla is a TAM player on loan, so it may be his starting role in this tournament.
Real Salt Lake
RSL take on Colorado, then Minnesota and finish their group stage with Sporting Kansas City. Real Salt Lake finished third in the west in 2019 and made it to the western conference semifinals. Their 2020 started roughly just taking two points from two matches and only scoring one goal. Heading into the MLS is Back Tournament they will need to step it up to make it out of the group.
Three Things to Watch
- Replacing a Legend
Longtime MLS Legend Nick Rimando is no longer the goalkeeper for RSL. This may be the reason for the slower start for Salt Lake in 2020, but how will this factor into this tournament? If Rimando was with the team he may have been able to give a sense of calm in stressful situations. Now it is up to either David Ochoa, Zac MacMath or Andrew Putna to step up to fill the boots of the legend.
- Will Giuseppe Rossi be a factor
RSL signed former Italian National Team player Giuseppe Rossi. The 33-year-old attacker may be most known for choosing to play internationally for Italy over the United States, but now he is a part of Real Salt Lake. He did not feature in any of the two matches to start the 2020 season, but could he play a factor for RSL in this tournament? He is a world-class player and could be a lynchpin either from the start of a match or off the bench.
- Counter attacking to win
Salt Lake has a front four that is built to hit teams on the counter. Corey Baird, Albert Rusnák, Justin Meram and Damir Kreilach all have the speed and quality to make teams pay for losing possession. If you add Giuseppe Rossi to this attack and we could see a team that has a case for winning this group.
Sporting Kansas City
Kansas City plays Minnesota United, then take on Colorado Rapids and complete their group stage with Real Salt Lake. Sporting KC had a down year in 2019 missing the playoffs and finishing in 11th place in the west. Coming into 2020 they completely turned things around winning both their matches and scoring seven goals and only allowing one. This team looks like a favorite to win Group D.
Three Things to Watch
- The Pulido effect
SKC doesn’t usually buy big-name players, but they did so before the 2020 season. They signed the Mexican striker to a designated player contract. He repaid the team by scoring twice in two matches before this shutdown. Now as he heads into the MLS is Back Tournament, he will be asked to lead the line and score to lead them to the top of the group.
- Veteran presences all over the field
Everywhere you look on Sporting’s roster there are veteran players who know how to get things done. Their dynamic 4-3-3 style of play sees Johnny Russell using his speed to produce offense. In the midfield, Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sánchez can shut things down and start attacks. In defense a couple of USA World Cup vets help to keep things in order; Graham Zusi and Matt Besler are poised for another successful tournament. These veterans coupled with good coaching could drive SKC far in this tournament.
- A difference-maker in goal
Sporting Kansas City has a difference-maker in goal. Tim Melia is the winningest keeper in SKC history and has won goalkeeper of the year. A great goalkeeper can be a huge difference-maker in a tournament like this; Melia could help propel Kansas City to high places in this tournament. Could he be the reason they lift the cup?
Group D will have fireworks. These teams include some regional rivals. Look for that to make its way into these group stage matches! The first matches in this group kick off on July 12th.
To learn more about the MLS is Back Tournament, check out our in-depth article on the tournament:
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Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports