MLS is Back Recap: Days 3-5


The MLS is Back Tournament continued group play over the weekend, with ten teams playing their first match of the tournament. The first two days of the tournament saw low scoring, one-goal games. While some of the weekend’s five matches followed this trend, we also saw things we haven’t seen yet.

A scoreless draw. A four-goal dominant win. A goal keeper red card. A two-goal comeback in stoppage time. The reigning MLS Cup Champions taking the field.

Days three through five of the MLS is Back Tournament had no shortage of excitement, drama, and impressive goals as well as goal keeping. With every group besides Group F taking the field at some point through Sunday night, the tournament standings are beginning to take shape.

Other Recaps: Days 1-2

See Also: ‘MLS is Back Tournament’: What We Need to Know’

Sounders, Earthquakes Play to Tough 0-0 Draw

Seattle Sounders FC continued the defense of their 2019 MLS Cup title with their first group stage game in the MLS is Back Tournament. Seattle finished second in the Western Conference during the 2019 regular season before their ultimate title run, with 56 points.

The San Jose Earthquakes finished 8th in the West last year, earning 44 points, four points shy of the 7th and final playoff spot in 2019.

The Sounders came into Friday night’s matchup as favorites, but were given a gritty performance by the opposing Earthquakes.

San Jose had more scoring opportunities in the first half, but Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei maintained a clean sheet heading into half time.

Seattle got more aggressive in the second half, ripping some powerful shots at San Jose’s Mario Daniel Vega. While Vega wasn’t always able to corral the shot attempts, often letting the ball bounce back out into play, the Earthquakes defense maintained possession and prevented any second-chance scoring.

In the final ten minutes of regulation, Seattle created multiple shots on goal, but Vega kept his sheet clean and the game scoreless, even through an additional ten minutes of added time.

The two teams played fundamentally sound soccer, and despite the scoreless draw, looked like two of the best teams to play in the tournament so far. The story of this game was impeccable goal keeping, not offensive ineptitude, which was the case for some teams in the tournament’s first two days.

Seattle got off 12 shots, landing six of them on goal, and possessed the ball for 48% of the game. San Jose was closer to scoring, attempting 16 shots and landing eight of them on target, while controlling the ball 52% of the game.

Each team was given one yellow card, and neither team was called for being offside. Both teams earn a point in the three-team Group B.

Red Bulls Strike Early, Hold On for 1-0 Win over Atlanta United

The New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United FC met on Saturday night to begin their Group E play. In the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, the top-seeded Red Bulls fell short to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Atlanta won the 2018 MLS Cup over the Portland Timbers.

In 2019, Atlanta stayed strong, finishing second in the Eastern Conference with 58 points. New York fell back, finishing 7th with 48 points. Neither team advanced past the second round of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.

With a chip on their shoulders and in an underdog role, the Red Bulls set out to make an early statement in Group E.

Indeed, New York wasted no time getting on the board. An incredible fast break opportunity allowed Florian Valot to find the back of the net just four minutes into the game.

At the 24 minute mark, New York had prime position to add another goal, but Brad Guzan, Atlanta’s goalkeeper, was able to negate the offensive attack.

Just prior to halftime, 18-year old Nigerian striker George Bello got off a great shot for Atlanta that passed the goal keeper, but bounced off the post and back into the field of play.

The Red Bulls had another shot on Guzan before halftime, on an exciting pass that was picked up by a speedy, cutting attacker. Guzan made a clutch save, but it was a testament to Atlanta’s porous defense, that kept allowing New York to set up prime opportunities.

In the 7th and final minute of stoppage time at the end of the second half, Atlanta nearly found their equalizer. But New York goalkeeper David Jensen extended his arms for a win-sealing save.

Compared to Seattle and San Jose, who put on a fundamental clinic, this game was a little sloppier. The Red Bulls controlled the ball for just 32% of the game. They only got six shot attempts off, but four of them were on target, and they were quality shots.

Despite possessing the ball for 68% of the game and attempting 14 shots, Atlanta only landed four shots on target the entire game.

The two teams were called for a combined 22 fouls and eight instances of being offside.

Columbus Crew SC Erupts for 4-0 Win over FC Cincinnati

Through the first five matches of the MLS is Back Tournament, no game was decided by more than one goal, and no team had scored more than two goals in a game.

Both those things would change when FC Cincinatti and Columbus Crew SC met on Saturday night.

In 2019, the two teams were among the weakest in the Eastern Conference. Columbus finished 10th in the Eastern Conference with 38 points, while FC Cincinnati finished 12th with 24 points. Those 24 points were the least of any team in MLS, a whopping ten points behind the next worst team (Vancouver Whitecaps FC.) They were also outscored by 44 goals, again the worst mark in MLS (Vancouver: -22.)

The battle between the two Ohio soccer clubs would kick off the scoring in the 27th minute. Attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayán took a free kick from just outside the box, and bended it beautifully past the goal keeper and into the goal for the Crew’s first goal of the match.

Columbus’s next two goals would come courtesy of Gyasi Zardes, one of each side of the halftime break. The first came on a fast break, with Zardes staying just on side as he received a leading pass. One on one with the goalie, Zardes easily found the back of the net.

In the 49th minute, Zelarayán, who scored the first goal, would find Zardes on a beautiful long-distance crossing pass. The uncovered Zardes redirected the ball into the goal, again with relative ease.

As icing on the cake, the Crew would score again in the 60th minute, making Cincinnati’s defense look silly. After kicking the ball around, sending it outside the box, it was passed back in to an uncovered Youness Mokhtar who connected for Columbus’s fourth and final goal of the game. Leaving the winger open without a defender, so close to the goalkeeper, was a defensive breakdown for Cincinnati.

After finishing as the worst team in MLS last season, Cincinnati put up the weakest performance of any team yet in the MLS is Back Tournament. The club possessed the ball for only 38% of the match, attempting five shots with three on target. Columbus used their dominant 62% time of possession to get off 12 shots, landing six of them on target.

The Crew enter a tie for first place in Group E, earning three points, just as the New York Red Bulls did with their win over Atlanta United.

Sporting Kansas City Squanders 1-0 Lead, Allows Two Goals in Stoppage Time to Minnesota United

In 2019, Minnesota United FC finished 4th in the Western Conference with 53 points and a +9 goal differential. Sporting Kansas City finished 11th with just 38 points, and an embarrassing -18 goal differential.

Kansas City looked good in the early 2020 season, but on paper, this would still appear to be a sight mismatch. On the field, however, the results were a lot closer than you’d expect.

Kansas City would strike first in the 43rd minute. The club quickly turned defense into attack, winning possession of the ball and quickly advancing towards the goal on a fast break. Khiry Shelton had the ball on the outside with no defenders around him. Due to his angle of attack, he probably shouldn’t have been able to score. Perhaps this is what drew goalkeeper Tyler Miller to expect a pass into the middle of the box. Instead, Shelton was able to squeak the ball into the goal past the confused Miller.

Things continued going well for Kansas City (who ultimately won time of possession, shots attempted, and shots on target) into the second half as they held to their 1-0 lead.

But things started to unravel in the 74th minute, when Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia received a red card for a tackle outside the box. Melia had kept a clean sheet up to this point.

Kansas City would be tasked with holding on for another 15+ minutes, down to ten men and without their starting goalie.

They were unable to close out the game under these circumstances.

Kansas City held a 1-0 lead as stoppage time began. Minnesota forward Aaron Schoenfeld delivered a more than decent free kick into the box, although he didn’t connect with any of his teammates. Instead, Shelton, who had scored for Kansas City earlier, accidentally deflected the ball for an own goal.

It wasn’t an egregious mistake, and the quality of Schoenfeld’s entry pass definitely played a factor. Still, Kansas City quickly saw their likely three-point win turn into a one-point draw.

But the mistakes didn’t stop there.

In the 97th minute, the Kansas City defense missed a chance to clear the ball and essentially end the game in a draw. Minnesota took the ball to the outside corner, crossed it in, and ultimately an uncovered Kevin Molino was able to connect for an easy goal. Two Kansas City defenders should have stepped on to Molino earlier, but without their presence, he scored the game-winning goal with ease.

Kansas City arguably played a better match, but fell apart in the final seven minutes of stoppage time. They walk away with no points, digging themselves an early hole in Group D.

As the group stage matches count towards regular season standings, Minnesota improves to 3-0-0 for the 2020 MLS season.

Real Salt Lake Shut Out Colorado Rapids 2-0

The final match of the weekend included the other half of Group D: Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids.

Colorado bounced back from a shaky start in 2019 to finish with 42 points, 9th in the Western Conference, and -5 goal differential. Real Salt Lake finished 3rd in the West, with 53 points, outscoring their opponents by five goals over the course of the season.

The Rocky Mountain rivals played a fun, gritty game, that somehow ended with only seven total shot attempts. The first one came just six minutes into the game, as Real Salt Lake dinged a scoring opportunity off the upper post. 21 minutes into the game, a Real Salt Lake cross would turn into frantic action in the box. Rapids goal keeper Clint Irwin saved a close quarters shot before the Colorado defense cleared the attack.

But the Rapids couldn’t deny Real Salt Lake much longer. A cross by forward Douglas Martinez would force Irwin to the ground to make a save. But the ball found its way to Albert Rusnák, who was able to navigate the ball into the goal despite two Colorado defenders attempting to cover for Irwin.

About 26 minutes into the second half, Irwin received a yellow card for tackling a Real Salt Lake player within the box. The play by Irwin was a smart one though, saving a potential one-on-one goal after some sloppy defense allowed the opportunity. Irwin then doubled down, saving the ensuing penalty shot and subsequent follow-up.

Despite these heroic efforts, Irwin found his defense napping again. A Colorado throw-in quickly found the feet of Real Salt Lake, and Damir Kreilach was able to connect from outside the box, hitting the corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead.

Colorado would manage a shot off the hands of Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Zac MacMath in stoppage time, but the 28-year-old maintained his clean sheet.

The Rapids didn’t play a horrible game. They held the ball 46% of the time, committed just three fouls, and set up four corner kicks. But only attempting three shots, with none on target, isn’t going to win you many games. Throw in a couple of lapses in defensive coverage, and a solid effort turns in to a 2-0 loss.

Real Salt Lake joins Minnesota United atop Group D with three points.

Updated Group Standings

Records are Wins-Draws-Losses

Group A

  1. Orlando City SC (1-0-0) 3 Points (+1 goal differential)
  2. Philadelphia Union (1-0-0) 3 Points (+1 goal differential)
  3. Inter Miami (0-0-1) 0 Points (-1 goal differential)
  4. New York City FC (0-0-1) 0 Points (-1 goal differential)

Nashville SC was forced to withdraw from the tournament after players tested positive for COVID-19. Chicago Fire, originally in Group A, have been moved to Group B.

Group B

  1. San Jose Earthquakes (0-1-0) 1 Point (0 goal differential)
  2. Seattle Sounders (0-1-0) 1 Point (0 goal differential)
  3. Chicago Fire (0-0-0) 0 Points (N/A)
  4. Vancouver Whitecaps FC (0-0-0) 0 Points (N/A)

FC Dallas was forced to withdraw from the tournament after players tested positive for COVID-19. Chicago Fire, originally in Group A, have been moved to Group B.

Group C

  1. New England Revolution (1-0-0) 3 Points (+1 goal differential)
  2. Toronto FC (0-0-0) 0 Points (N/A)
  3. D.C. United (0-0-0) 0 Points (N/A)
  4. Montreal Impact (0-0-1) 0 Points (-1 goal differential)

Group D

  1. Real Salt Lake (1-0-0) 3 Points (+2 goal differential)
  2. Minnesota United FC (1-0-0) 3 Points (+1 goal differential)
  3. Sporting Kansas City (0-0-1) 0 Points (-1 goal differential)
  4. Colorado Rapids (0-0-1) 0 Points (-2 goal differential)

Group E

  1. Columbus Crew SC (1-0-0) 3 Points (+4 goal differential)
  2. New York Red Bulls (1-0-0) 3 Points (+1 goal differential)
  3. Atlanta United (0-0-1) 0 Points (-1 goal differential)
  4. FC Cincinnati (0-0-1) 0 Points (-4 goal differential)

Group F

  1. LAFC (0-0-0) 0 Points (N/A)
  2. LA Galaxy (0-0-0) 0 Points (N/A)
  3. Houston Dynamo (0-0-0) 0 Points (N/A)
  4. Portland Timbers (0-0-0) 0 Points (N/A)

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