Five must-see MLS is Back Tournament group-stage games | Greg Seltzer

    Now that the structure has been revealed and the groups have been drawn, the next logical step is circling the tastiest match-ups that’ll be on tap when the MLS is Back Tournament begins July 8.

    Thursday’s draw was quite interesting, with several arch-rivals penned in the same group. All five of the games highlighted below fit that bill, but making the cut requires other intriguing storylines.

    Before launching into the list, let’s give a nod to a few enticing honorable mentions:

    Orlando City vs. Inter Miami

    Lions and Herons, oh my! One thing’s for sure: No one on either side of the league’s first Florida derby match in 19 years will ever forget it. Not only will these clubs “make acquaintances” July 8, they’ll open this unique MLS tournament, with no fans in the stands, as the first experimental broadcast serving of American breakfast soccer

    You can expect high intensity, even if sharpness is lacking. Both teams are still after their first win of 2020 (which, for Inter Miami CF, would be a franchise first) and Orlando City hasn’t exactly kept up with the Joneses to date. They’ve yet to beat main rival Atlanta United and, though NYCFC aren’t a natural rival, they’ve cast a large shadow over their 2015 expansion cousins. I’m guessing the hosts will come out for this one with their ears back.

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    Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls

    At first glance, you might be bummed that the Five Stripes will be without Josef Martinez and consider his absence as a major lack of spark for this meeting. I’d say quit with all the bemoaning, as these two always manage to lock horns with intensity.

    Atlanta may have started the season 2-0, but they’ve only managed to beat the New York Red Bulls once in eight tries. The latter fact is a recurring heckle from the Big Apple Bunch, which makes it especially annoying for Atlanta, which means the gloves will be off when they square off in Group E’s main event.

    LAFC vs. LA Galaxy

    Before anyone accuses me of being cliché by including El Trafico, do remember that this crosscity rivalry is entering a new chapter. The last meeting finally saw LAFC taste derby victory for the first time, and the LA Galaxy villain that repeatedly foiled their efforts has exited stage left. I don’t know what happens next in this LA story, but I’m eager to find out.

    Zlatan may be gone, but Chicharito has taken his place to battle Mexico mate Carlos Vela for the soul of Los Angeles. The Galaxy are still trying to work out the transition from having a freelance striker that routinely pulls rabbits from hats to one that’s fully integrated into the attack. That casts them as Group F underdogs against LAFC, but this production typically comes with major twists.

    Minnesota United vs. Sporting KC

    For those who don’t remember 2020’s first few games, these Midwestern clubs were the league’s best out of the gate. Through two rounds, Sporting KC stand tops in the overall table as reward for embarrassing Vancouver and Houston by a combined 7-1 tally. Minnesota United stand just a hair behind them, but perhaps impressed even more by soundly defeating Portland and San Jose in their own homes.

    The matchup also offers an appetizing clash of playing styles. SKC likes to dictate events with ball movement, while the Loons build off a defensive framework. Both are among the toughest tackling teams in MLS, and both are having a new forward: Alan Pulido and Luis Amarilla. Their game in Orlando should be must-see TV.

    Montreal vs. Toronto FC

    As with the LA derby, this showdown barely needs any advertising. These clubs have been at each other’s throats since before they joined MLS, and the animosity only grows when tournament advancement is on the line.

    There’s no shortage of angles from which to view this Group C game. Both teams were off to a solid start to 2020 before the COVID-19 pause put them on ice. Montreal Impact boss Thierry Henry will take part in a Montreal-Toronto grudge match for the first time. The same can be said of DP midfielder Victor Wanyama. Toronto FC power forward Jozy Altidore, habitually a lightning rod in these derbies, is fit. It’s lining up to be another 401 doozy.

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