MLS is Back Tournament: Atlanta United onna slide

onuoha: for some players mls is like a hobby (1:47)

real salt lake defender nedum onouha discusses the pros and cons of promotion-relegation in ftball. (1:47)

the group stage for the mls is back exposé has ∴, and twas every bit as wild as one ‘d expect pondering the league was coming back from a 4-mnth hiatus. there were dramatic finishes, head-shaking gaffes and some upsets swell.

there’s always a risk of taking too much away from a 3-game stretch for these teams, all o'it played in brutally hot and humid conditions atta espn wide realm of sports complex in florida. but there were some lessons to be gleaned from a group stage twas' like a train wreck — you didn’t dare look away.

1. the bubble holds … for now

the fact that the exposé made it through the group stage counts as an accomplishment for mls. when fc dallas and nashville sc had to withdraw from the exposé due to clusters of + tests for covid-19, there were legitimate concerns bout whether the brawl ‘d continue. since that decision, the bubble has held firm with no confirmed new + tests inna past week for the remaining teams.

while that counts as excellent news, it’s still too early to declare victory. per the mls is back player exposé handbook, folloing the round of 16, the 8 remaining teams will move inna'da swan hotel. according to the athletic, the dolphin hotel will then be open to the general public. that last detail ‘d seem to add a variable in terms of keeping things secure, but to the credit of mls protocols, matters seem to be goin well for now.

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2. expect chaos

mls has long been a league where it benefits to expect the unexpected. w'da players stepping onto the field for their 1st competitive matches since early mar, there was bound to be some rust and unpredictability.

in that respect, the exposé has exceeded expectations. there s'been plenty of l8 drama, with espn tv analyst taylor twellman reprting that 9% of the goals inna mls is back exposé ‘ve been scored in stoppage time. if that holds up, it ‘d be the highest %age inna league’s history.

the teams that ‘ve excelled or flamed out ‘ve sparked some double takes swell, even when you take into account that the exposé format sees 16 of the 24 teams make it to the knockout rounds. presumed powers atlanta ∪d, the new york red bulls na la galaxy (+ on'em l8r) were among the teams eliminated atta 1st hurdle. meanwhile the likes of the vancouver whitecaps and fc cincinnati progressed, while the san jose earthquakes — chaos personified — and orlando city sc each won their group. portland were a mild surprise in beating lafc for the top spot in group f, but'a timbers ‘ve been worthy victors in their 1st two matches and picked up a creditable 2-2 draw against bob bradley’s side on thu nite.

given the inherent unpredictability of knockout round soccer, the drama looks set to continue.

3. american attackers step up

it seems for yrs now that when it came to acquiring attacking talent, the league has cast its collective eye abroad. in a global mkt, that makes perfect sense, and in 2020 the approach continued for some teams. the columbus crew spent $7 million on lucas zelarayan, while d.c. ∪d forked out $5 million for edison flores. then there was the big one, w'da la galaxy spending $9.4 million to acquire mexico’s javier “chicharito” hernandez.

but'a mls is back exposé has seen some american players step up. toronto fc‘s ayo akinola is tied for exposé top scorer (alongside lafc’s diego rossi) with 5 goals, while orlando city’s chris mueller has chipped in with 3.

philadelphia’s brenden aaronson has continued his role as 1-odda key cogs inna ∪’s attack. memo rodriguez has settled into a + central role inna houston dynamo‘s midfield, while ethan finlay‘s two goals for minnesota ∪d gainsta colorado rapids hint that he is gettin back to his best after dealing with injuries. portland’s jeremy ebobisse has looked sharp swell onnis bid to fend off a pair of winter acquisitions in jaroslaw niezgoda and felipe mora.

can this group sustain the success? that is often the big ?, and chicago fire playmaker djordje mihailovic seems to ‘ve fallen out of favor, but'a signs from this exposé remain encouraging.

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2:04

the earthquakes complete a sensational comeback 4-3 victory gainsta whitecaps. watch mls on espn+.

4. depth s'been tested

inna wake of the realmwide covid-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown of soccer leagues across the globe, the international ftball association board — which oversees the laws of the game — agreed to allo two + subs per game. now managers ‘ve ponderably + wiggle room in making changes that can ‘ve an impact, and those teams with depth ‘ve an advantage. the additional subs also help explain the aforementioned increase in l8 goals, though the fitness of teams has played a pt swell.

the rule’s impact was illustrated during the san jose earthquakes’ wild 4-3 win ‘oer the vancouver whitecaps on jul 15. w'da quakes trailing 3-1, manager matias almeyda made a triple substitution in a bid to rescue the situation. it worked to perfection, with two of those subs — the ageless chris wondoloski and shea salinas — scoring t'give san jose a dramatic win.

injuries ‘ve also played a pt in revealing which teams are deepest. reigning league mvp carlos vela didn’t take pt inna exposé, and adama diomande s'been dealing witha ft injury, b'that hasn’t sloed down lafc’s warp-speed attack. rossi has done plenty to pick up the slack, bradley write-phillips has shown he still has plenty left t'give, and brian rodriguez stepped up for his 1st league goal.

columbus has also held up well, w'da crew looking sharp despite injuries to goalkeeper eloy room and defender vito wormgoor.

play

1:44

taylor twellman breaks down the issues facing atlanta ∪d after exiting mls is back without scoring a goal.

5. atlanta, the galaxy na red bulls are na' downward slide

sample sizes and all that, but there are still plenty of ?s surrounding these teams for whenever the league resumes.

the la galaxy are sufferation immensely, espeshly when compared to lafc, who thrashed their crosstown rivals 6-2. the losses of both jonathan dos santos and chicharito ‘ve cut espeshly deep, and while the expectation s'dat they will return l8r this season, it highlites just how much work remains to be done on this roster. lil s'been done to shore up the galaxy’s defense, though the team’s identity ‘dn’t crumble just cause a few players are missing.

it’s tough to know wha’ to make of the red bulls. their overall record is 2-2-1, so they’re not in trouble, strictly speaking. but they just don’t look the same as in yrs past, which is coggable when you lose elder mainstays like luis robles, write-phillips and kemar lawrence. thris still time for the red bulls to reestablish their identity, but atta moment they look like a team thrashing bout to find form.

then again, for the galaxy na red bulls, it ‘d be worse. they ‘d be atlanta, who went goalless and pointless in orlando. atlanta has struggled to maintain its lofty perch atta top of the mls heap ever since tata martino depted folloing the mls cup triumph in 2018, so some of this s'on his successor, frank de boer. but'a loss of players like darlington nagbe and julian gressel and leandro gonzalez pirez, combined with josef martinez‘s knee injury, has compromised the balance of the squad, na replacements ‘ve yet to reach the lvl o'their predecessors.

can de boer turn it round? it’s possible, but atlanta doesn’t look like a side that believes in wha’ de boer is preaching.

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