Good Friday morning Caps fans—we’ve just about made it through the week.
And what a week it was for despite the twists and turns in the real world over the past fortnight, this week we finally got a clear look (and license to imagine) what the return of MLS will look like, right down to the groupings for the MLS Is Back Cup (seriously they had two-and-a-half months to think of a name and went with that!?!).
We’ve covered in detail here the format that tournament will take. And if you’re a regular reader of this site, you probably already took a peak at Sam Rowan’s breakdown of what the format will be (if not, go read it now).
Sam gets into some of the legitimate safety concerns, as well as the rather alarming testing program MLS set forth. That isn’t good! The Orlando area has seen a significant growth in COVID-19 cases in recent days, coupled with a rise in Florida as a whole. That really isn’t good!
But this column will focus more directly on the on-the-field aspect, namely the groups we saw plucked yesterday. The health side of things is more important, obviously, but we’ll save that for another time.
In a draw ceremony that really had it all yesterday, the groupings of four (plus one group of six in the Easter Conference because math) were unveiled. The seeded teams (the top three finishers from each conference last year) selected the draws by having a representative (who apparently had nothing better going on Thursday afternoon) picking random numbers, which corresponded to certain Easter eggs with the respective team inside, a process which had no potential for being rigged I’m sure.
The Caps group? Well, they somewhat predictably got drawn with Cascadian rival Seattle, as well as FC Dallas and San Jose Earthquakes.
On first glance you have to like the Caps’ group. On Twitter we asked folks to pick where they thought the team would finish and the overwhelming majority had them in the 2nd/3rd place range, which feels right (for the record, I picked third place).
The Vancouver Whitecaps will finish ___ in Group B (Seattle, Dallas, San Jose, and Vancouver).— Eighty Six Forever (@86forever) June 11, 2020
Both Seattle and FC Dallas are playoff teams from 2019 (and actually met in a 4-3 playoff thriller) and both took four points from their first two games. The Sounders certainly remain formidable, especially after adding DP midfielder Joao Paulo in the offseason. But the Caps need a measuring stick and the fact that it comes in the form of a key rival? Well, it should give the matchup a little extra juice.
FC Dallas is certainly a much more even matchup. While the team reached the playoffs last season and was expected to do so again this year, they have more key players to bed in. That includes their own new shiny striker, Franco Jara, a top scorer in Liga MX who the team hopes will solve their own woes up top. Also the Caps always seem to have entertaining battles with the Texan sides—hopefully something that will translate to Orlando.
And San Jose Earthquakes are certainly the weaker team of the three. In addition to being the last team to return to training (and thus likely to be the rustiest), the Quakes weren’t doing so hot before the break either.
They nabbed a sole point in the first two matches and only did so thanks to a late free kick equalizer against Toronto FC. The team didn’t really change much from last year, when Matias Alymeda nearly steered them into the playoffs, only to fall apart in the last six games. The real value of having the Quakes in the group, though, is the meme potential—they are our chief rival after all.
What matchup are you looking forward to most?— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 11, 2020
As a whole, the groups are generally pretty even and should provide for some fun matchups. In something which I’m sure was not scripted, four of the league’s top rivalries popped up, along with what I’m sure will be a hotly anticipated first meeting of Orlando City and Inter Miami. The rivalries all lose a little luster without fans but its still a compelling reason to tune in and something easy to sell to the TV networks and casual fans—big wins for the league, as they will be the second major team sports league in the U.S. to return to action (after the NWSL).
Is the whole tournament setup a little hokey? Yeah. Does it outweigh the health risks? Unclear. But the prospect of Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls duking it out, even on a glorified practice field without fans at 9 AM EST? It sounds pretty good right about now.
Plus it’ll be 16 straight days of soccer and who could say no to that?
Best of the Rest
JJ Adams talks with the team after they heard the draw—sounds like a pretty motivated bunch
On the “huge opportunity” MLS has to make an imprint on the national sports scene
Jeremy Ebobisse with some strong (and impactful) words on racism and white allyship in this moment
The USSF has done a mea culpa for banning Megan Rapinoe (and others) from kneeling during the national anthem, changing a policy which never should have existed in the first place
A look at the different tact USL is taking as it returns to play