Major League Soccer is already back and being played with a one-off competition branded the MLS Is Back Tournament.
There had been no regular MLS football in 2020 since March 12 until this tournament kicked off on July 8. Matches are being played behind closed doors at the Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney Resort in Florida. It will be interesting to see which teams adapt to competing without fans in attendance.
Soccer is currently being played behind closed doors in the Bundesliga in Germany and Premier League in England. There have been more away wins than normal in both leagues. However, the squads with a limited strength in depth have suffered most. Matches have become a test of skill and ability more than heart and commitment. Underdogs playing at home do not have fans to drive them on and many fixtures appear similar to training exercises.
Away support can be substantial in the Premier League because of the distances and ease of travel. There is not that visiting fans culture in the United States so it is more difficult to win on the road. The rejigged MLS season takes home field advantage out of the equation and that scenario could be a factor in the match and futures betting markets. At the time of writing, 11 matches have been played in the innovative MLS tournament. Here is a breakdown of the outcomes:
- Outright Wins 8
- Ties 3
- Goals 24
- Goals Per Match 18
- Goal For Both Teams 5
- Over 2 Goals 6
- Favourite Wins 5
- Underdog Wins 3
There are 51 matches in the MLS Is Back Tournament. There are six groups of four teams. The two top teams in each group and the four best third-place finishers qualify for the round of the last 16. It then becomes a knockout competition culminating in the final on August 11. Results in the group stages count towards the regular season, which continues after the final. The winners of the tournament qualify for the Concacaf Champions League.
If scores are level after 90 minutes in a knockout match, the outcome will be decided by penalties and there will be no extra time. Coaches can name up to 12 substitutes and make five changes during the match. Changes are allowed in three stages at most in addition to players introduced into the play during the half-time break. All but two of the 26 MLS soccer teams are playing but FC Dallas and Nashville FC withdrew on health grounds.
The team to be interested in is Toronto FC, who lost in the 2019 MLS final to Seattle Sounders last November. In fact, these sides have met in three of the last four finals and Seattle came out on top in two of those fixtures, though the 2016 match went to extra time and penalties.
The Toronto squad is proven and with plenty of experience. The team went all the way to the MLS Cup final last season but lost 3-1 to Seattle. The Canadians beat that outfit in the 2017 final but came out second best to the same opponents in the final in the previous year. The Toronto captain, Michael Bradley, is a key player and has returned from ankle surgery for this first and possibly only MLS Is Back Tournament.
Seattle have made purchases that could make for a better squad than the one that won the MLS Cup in 2019. The overseas talent may take time to adjust to the demands of the MLS. However, it is a much-truncated season and teams must hit the ground running. Seattle were not impressive in drawing and winning their opening MLS fixtures. They should accumulate enough points to progress to the round of the last 16 but reaching another final with several new squad members may be a tough ask. Other teams are preferred to progress to the deciding match in Orlando.
Atlanta United beat Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup final in 2018. The runners-up seemed to take a step back last season. They did have a long road trip while their stadium was being developed. Portland won one and lost one of two home games at the start of the MLS season and are in a tough group. Atlanta are in better shape to make another MLS Cup final and have some strength in depth in their squad. Some key players are returning from injury but Toronto have the roster to win this unique MLS tournament. So our preview’s MLS Is Back predictions and picks are:
- Despite a disappointing 2-2 draw in the opening match of the competition against DC United, expect Toronto to get back on track. Bet on the Canadian team to win the tournament @ current best odds of +1400 (14/1) with Bovada.