On June 11, the MLS announced the groups for the MLS Is Back Tournament, with Inter Miami being placed in Group A alongside Orlando City SC, New York City FC, Chicago Fire, Philadelphia Union, and Nashville FC.
All six teams in Group A failed to record a win in the first two matches of the MLS Season before the coronavirus forced the league to shut down, with Inter Miami, NYCFC, and Nashville losing both of their games before the halt.
The opening match for the tournament on July 8th will be the first interstate match-up between Inter Miami and tournament host, Orlando City. Inter Miami then takes on New York City FC in their second match before finishing group play with a match against Chicago.
The top two teams in each group and the four best third-place teams will advance to the knockout round of the tournament.
The group stages matches will count towards the regular season and the winner of the tournament will automatically receive a CONCACAF Champions League spot.
Inter Miami will be managed by two time CONCACAF Champions League winner, Diego Alonso, and his first challenge will be getting the expansion side to gel after the first two games of his tenure resulted in two losses against LAFC (1-0) and F.C. Dallas (2-1).
Inter Miami’s first goalscorer in club history and Mexican National Team midfielder, Rodolfo Pizarro will be crucial to Inter Miami’s success in this tournament. Pizzaro’s most productive season in Liga MX was in 2017-18 where he recorded seven goals and six assists in 25 starts for Guadalajara.
Lewis Morgan, who has UEFA champions league experience from his time with Celtic, is a great option on the wing and recorded the first assist in club history.
Victor Ulloa, a ten-year veteran in the MLS and Wil Trapp, who has captained the United States national team on a few occasions, will be other players that can make a difference in the middle of the field for Inter Miami.
The options upfront for Inter Miami include Robbie Robinson, last year’s Hermann’s trophy -the top individual honor in NCAA Soccer- was the top overall pick of the MLS SuperDraft and scored 18 goals for Clemson in his final season for the Tigers. Juan Agudelo, who has 28 caps, three goals, and three assists under his belt for the U.S. senior national team and Julian Carranza is an intriguing young option for the club.
Defensively, the starting line-up against D.C. United was led by goalkeeper and captain Luis Robles, Ben Sweat at left-back, Roman Torres, and Nico Figal at the center back spots, and Andres Reyes at right back.
The club recently signed Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, a center back that has won the MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup, and Campeones Cup with Atlanta United. Gonzalez adds depth to the centre-back position.
Torres, captains the Panama national team, and Figal has been called up to the Argentina national team.
This will be Robles’ ninth season in the MLS and was a three-time champion with the New York Red Bulls.
Sweat was drafted in the expansion draft by Miami and has made two apprentices for the U.S national team. He formerly played for NYCFC from 2017-2019 making 72 appearances during that time.
Reyes is an intriguing prospect who has made 7 appearances and helped Colombian U-20 Team qualify for the U-20 World Cup.
Opponent 1: Orlando City SC
Orlando SC is coming off a season in which they reached the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup before losing to Atlanta United 2-0 but they placed 22nd out of 24 teams in the Supporter’s Shield standings.
Their front line featuring Nani, who was a member of Portugal’s 2016 European Champion Team and their team leader in goals (12) and assists (10) in the 2019 season for the Lions. Canadian International Tesho Akindele also had double-digit goals last year for Orlando City and played as both a center forward and right-winger.
Orlando City’s midfield is in the process of a rebuild, as they lost four midfielders in the offseason, including U.S. National team player Sacha Kljestan to the LA Galaxy.
The team returns Sebas Mendez, who starts regularly for Ecuador, Uri Rosell, and Marucio Pereyra.
Expect Junior Urso to make an impact as one of the players the team added. He played last season for Brazilan league winning side Corinthians, playing for 4,000 minutes in all competitions, which would have led the MLS in minutes played last year.
Experience is present in the back for Orlando, with new signing, Pedro Gallese, who has been Peru’s number one goalkeeper since 2014, and Brian Rowe, who started 32 of 34 games last season, Orlando City has two options for goalkeepers.
The team also returns four fullbacks Joao Moutinho, Kamal Miller, Ruan Gregorio Teixeira, Kyle Smith, and centre-back Robin Jansson. Jansson is expected to be paired with new signing, Antonio Carlos.
The Lions are led by new coach Oscar Pareja, who lifted the U.S. Open Cup trophy and the Supporter’s Shield as the manager of F.C. Dallas in 2016.
Opponent 2: New York City FC
New York City FC is another club that underwent a coaching change in the off-season hiring Ronny Deila, former manager of Celtic in the Scottish Premier League.
New York placed first place in the Eastern Conference and second overall in the MLS last season last year before being eliminated by Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference semifinals in the MLS Cup. They also exited last year’s Open Cup after losing to Group A foe Orlando in the quarterfinals.
The team is one of the best at scoring goals and were tied as the third highest-scoring team last year with the Seattle Sounders with both teams scoring 64 goals over the course of the 2019 campaign.
They were also stout defensively giving up just 42 goals, fourth-fewest in the MLS.
Maximiliano Morales led the MLS in assists last year with 20, four more than second-best of Diego Valeri of the Portland Timbers, distribution in midfield is expected to be a major factor in this tournament. Morales was named to the MLS Best XI for his performance last season.
The team also returns Heber, who scored 15 goals which tied for fifth-best in the MLS last year in that category in just 18 starts in his debut season in the league.
Discipline could be a problem for NYCFC, as the team led the league in yellow cards last season, receiving 80.
Opponent 3: Chicago Fire
Chicago just missed out on the MLS playoffs last year, finishing 8th in the Eastern Conference and were knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup in the fourth round last year by Saint Louis F.C.
The also lost German star, Bastian Schweinsteiger during this last off-season.
Their front-line include C.P Sapong who scored 13 goals last season for the Fire and Robert Beric, who has made 25 senior national appearances for Slovenia.
Przemyslaw Frankowski has made 10 appearances for the Polish national team and will likely play on the right-wing for the Fire.
Their No. 10, Alvaro Medran has played in La Liga for Real Madrid, Getafe, Valencia, Alves, and Rayo Vallecano and has already recorded his first MLS assist for the Fire after coming in this off-season.
Defense and goalkeeping could be a weakness for the Fire according to an MLSsoccer.com preview of the side.
Non-Opponent Group Member: Philadelphia Union
The Philadelphia Union finished third in the Eastern Conference last season before being beat by Atlanta United in the conference semifinals. They also lost in the fourth round of the U.S Open Cup against D.C. United.
Their most notable name is midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who has made 66 appearances for the U.S Men’s National Team. Bedoya had five goals and three assists in all competitions last year.
In goal, they have Jamicain national Andre Blake who helped the Reggae Boyz reach the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2019.
It will be interesting to see if Kacper Przybylko, who scored 15 goals -which tied Herber for fifth-best in the league- could duplicate similar production this season.
Non Opponent Group Member: Nashville FC
Nashville FC, Another expansion club, focused on building a strong foundation in defense and acquired Walker Zimmerman, who was named to MLS Best XI and the MLS All-Star team last year.
They also acquired Dax McCarty, who has been in the MLS since 2006 and played for D.C. United, F.C. Dallas, New York Red Bulls, and most recently the Chicago Fire.
Without an established striker on their roster, Nashville could have problems finding an efficient goal scorer.