Good Friday morning Caps fans—we almost made it to the weekend. While COVID-19 case counts have started to rise again in my neck of the woods, it sounds as though they’re dropping pretty significantly in British Columbia. Hope you all are enjoying your newfound freedoms gleaned from not being in a country which basically ignores a pandemic!
It is full speed ahead on the squad preparing for Orlando, both in terms of what we will see on the pitch, as well as off in terms of the COVID-19-related health concerns.
If you really want to dive full in on lucid dreaming mode, the league even made public the match schedule and TV listings for the group stage earlier this week.
You ready, Group B? #MLSisBack Tournament Group Stage pres. by @Heineken_US. pic.twitter.com/MXsmn9Hh9D— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 24, 2020
The good news? MLS didn’t do the most MLS thing possible, something I almost expected out of them, which is to stick the Caps with a 9:00 a.m. start time for at least one of the matches. That would be fine for me out on the east coast but for you locals that’s an ugly 6:00 a.m. wake-up-call, just to watch Vancouver
disappoint you do battle.
We discussed the health concerns about the tournament earlier this week and I think if you’ve read this column regularly you know I have had questions about the wisdom of the whole idea from the start. But it’s happening whether you or I like it or not and we just have to cross our fingers the public health experts know what they’re doing and no one gets sick.
So let’s focus our attention on the football itself, eh?
Marc dos Santos was asked at his media availability earlier this week about what kind of style of play he expects to unfold and had this to say:
“I think we will see games that are going to become very open. I see a lot of goals in this tournament. Heat is going to play an important factor. Teams might start out compact, but the games are going to open up. Some players also might feel less pressure without fans there...We want to stick to what we have been building. But we want to play a game with so much intensity that we have to be careful when the fatigue sets in. What kind of moves can we make to keep the team strong through the full 90? That’s going to be our challenge.”
It is pretty safe to say that we will not see the players at 100 percent, at least not in the first match or two. MLS has expressly forbidden friendlies before and after teams get to Orlando, meaning that the first time anybody kicks a ball in a competitive match will come when Orlando City and Inter Miami kick off the whole shindig.
Now, that will likely make the initial matches less interesting from a purely technical standpoint—it will not be like watching Barcelona circa 2009 or the 1970 Brazilian national team.
But I think that actually, in some ways, will make the matches more entertaining. MLS routinely benefits from what I like to call the “college football” syndrome. College sports in the U.S. succeed for many reasons but they do so in spite of the fact that most of the players are a far cry from their professional counterparts in terms of talent. Yet the mistakes that ensue, in some ways makes the league more entertaining than the NFL.
No one would argue MLS has the most talented players in the world. But the dip in talent actually can make for some more interesting matches because, quite frankly, you never know what is going to happen next. The MLS Is Back tournament will likely test that maxim further.
In Whitecaps-land, I would expect a fairly attacking-minded approach. The team has the benefit of a healthy, fit defensive and midfield base and one would hope there has been an emphasis on the tactical approach MDS wants from the guys going forward.
Is it possible they go with the “sneak a goal of a set piece or fluky counter attack and sit back and defend” strategy? Sure. There have been no shortage of teams in the European leagues who have gone with that approach since the restart, trying to capitalize on the general weirdness of everything.
But I think, by and large, the unknowns of player fitness, the lack of fans and almost twice as many subs per match didn’t really have an adverse effect on the watchability of the games. In most cases it has been quite the opposite.
But let’s be honest, you didn’t really need my prodding—You probably were going to tune into TSN at 7 p.m. PST on July 9 anyway.
Let’s get to some links...
Shameless Self Promotion
For more MDS’ opining on all things Orlando, Sam Rowan has you covered
Best of the Rest
Inter Miami have signed Brek Shea, perhaps for some pre-tournament depth. Or maybe they just need a Renaissance man on the team
Turner Sports elected to bail on their last year-and-a-half of UEFA Champions League rights and I have to say they will not be missed
It is not a given that FC Dallas frontman Franco Jara will start against Vancouver in their tournament opener
A mascot cage fight between the most bizarre costumed characters in MLS history. One hopes Spike is chilling somewhere, reading this from afar