By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 26, 2020) US Soccer Players - Like most Americans, soccer fans have a caffeine addiction. While caffeine dependency is not always great for personal health, leaning into it might be a good idea for followers of Major League Soccer this summer. The MLS Is Back schedule is out. It features several dates that will test the endurance of those fans committed to watching every match the league has to offer from the centralized tournament in Orlando.
MLS previously disclosed that the group stage of MLS Is Back would take place over 16 days, with games on every one of those dates. Now that the finalized schedule is out, we can look ahead to the highlight games. As always, there's a special emphasis on the league's most promoted asset: Rivalry.
Wednesday, July 8
The opening day of the tournament features two matches from Group A, the tournament's six-team group, involving 2020 expansion teams. As predetermined before the draw, "host" Orlando City will face off against in-state rival Inter Miami to kick off the competition.
MLS is pushing rivalry right off the bat. Because there's no history between the teams and no fans will be on hand, it's hard to imagine much enmity between them from the outset. Orlando City has plenty to prove before anyone will call the club a contender under Oscar Pareja, but beating the first-year team is a must.
Inter Miami is a fascinating story, chock full of recognizable MLS veterans and new largely Latin American talent. The Herons will reportedly add former Atlanta United center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in time for MLS Is Back, strengthening the backline and improving their chances to advance as one of the top three teams in the group.
Thursday, July 9
The second day of group stage play brings the first triple-header of the tournament. The league's decision to play matches at 9 am ET on some days will get its first test when NYCFC and the Philadelphia Union face off in Group A. Avoiding the heat won out over putting games in a more TV-friendly timeslot. With a pair of East Coast teams playing the first morning match, the timing is at least reasonable for fans.
Following a nine-hour break between action, Montreal and New England will play at 8 pm to get the tournament started for Group C. The late kickoff time, 10:30 pm, features a match between FC Dallas and Vancouver in Group B. For the diehards prepared to watch every match the tournament has to offer, the final whistle between those two Western Conference teams will come 15-and-half hours after the start of the day's matches. Thankfully, MLS didn't schedule a 9 am kickoff the following day, so fans can presumably recuperate a bit before two evening matches on July 10.
Saturday, July 11
The first weekend matchday of the tournament won't include a morning kickoff, either. Instead, July 11 will deliver the day with a pair of "rivalry" matches, though the two are of a decidedly different type.
Atlanta United plays the New York Red Bulls at 8pm. Despite not being a geographical rivalry or one with a deep history, MLS chose to include United vs Red Bulls in the list of "Rivalry Games Presented by Heineken" in the schedule announcement. The two teams do have recent history in the MLS Cup playoffs. In Atlanta's championship season of 2018, it was the Red Bulls that United took out over two legs in the Eastern Conference final.
The second match is an undisputed rivalry, even if it doesn't have the top-of-the-conference cache of Atlanta and New York. The 10:30pm kickoff on July 11 features FC Cincinnati against Columbus with the Hell Is Real Derby relocated to Orlando. Last year the two clubs played to a draw and a Columbus victory. FCC will have a chance for its first win over the Crew as an MLS team with new head coach Jaap Stam in charge of his first MLS match.
Monday, July 13
On paper, neither of the two matches on July 13 looks more compelling than a host of others at MLS Is Back. However, the first Monday games in Orlando represent the first opportunity to gauge the readiness of both Los Angeles teams to challenge for the tournament title.
LAFC is under the brighter spotlight as the defending Supporters' Shield winner. It won't be until the club hits the ground in Orlando that we'll know the team's exact makeup. Whether Bob Bradley has a full complement of players or not, the 8pm clash against Houston will tell us plenty about where they stand.
The Galaxy closes out the night's matches against Portland after a poor start to the abbreviated regular season, Javier Hernandez will be under pressure to carry his team in Florida.
Wednesday, July 15
Pity Sounders fans on July 15, when the coffee will be flowing for a 6am local time kickoff against FC Dallas. It feels a little cruel to force Seattle's famously loyal fans to get up at the crack of dawn for their second game of the group stage. If the players are ready for the early start time, the game should be intriguing.
It was a young, game FC Dallas team that pushed the eventual champion Sounders to the brink in a Western Conference first-round playoff game last year. With that same group back in 2020 and a year older, the battle between the champs and Luchi Gonzalez's team can build on the playoff clash.
Following Seattle and FC Dallas in the first evening kickoff is one of the league's most underrated rivalries, the "Canadian Classique" or the "401 Derby", depending on your preference. Toronto FC and Montreal foster animosity for one another that ties into the complicated relationship between English-speaking and French-speaking Canada. The teams themselves have put on epic battles in the past, the most famous being the 2017 Eastern Conference final. It deserves mention that the July 15 match between the Canadian clubs will be Thierry Henry's first taste of the rivalry as Impact head coach.
Saturday, July 18
Interested East Coast MLS fans might not like it, but the 10:30pm kickoff time on July 18 is perfectly timed for soccer fans back in Los Angeles. It's the MLS Is Back edition of "El Trafico." The name of the matchup continues to be a source of mild controversy, but there's no denying that LAFC vs LA Galaxy is a marquee showdown each and every time it happens.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is gone, and LAFC beat the Galaxy for the first time in last year's playoffs. Whether the fire between the two clubs makes the move to Florida is tough to say. So is whether or not each team will have all of its star power available for the tournament.
More From Jason Davis:
- Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman, and what becomes of the 2020 MLS season
- MLS is Back but do the Florida teams have an advantage?
- Kevin Durant, the Union, and MLS celebrity
- MLS is back, but it's not going to be normal
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