MLS is Back Recap: Days 6-9


The MLS is Back Tournament continued this week, with many teams playing their second group stage games as the tournament wore on. For some teams, two wins in two games was enough to create some comfort heading into their final match of group play. Other teams, like the defending MLS Cup Champions and defending Supporter’s Shield winners, will face uphill battles in qualifying for the tournament’s knockout round.

We saw exciting, high-scoring battles to complement the low-scoring affairs that began the tournament last week. In total, ten more matches were completed from Monday through Thursday, and some teams made out better than others.

Read on to discover some exciting matches, and the implications that the results bring to the tournament as the group stage is roughly halfway complete.

Other Recaps: Days 1-2, Days 3-5

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

D.C. United Claws Back From Late 0-2 Hole to Draw Toronto FC 2-2

D.C United and Toronto FC both played their first match in the MLS is Back Tournament on Monday morning. The two clubs finished with virtually identical records in 2019: 50 points, 13 wins, 10 losses and 11 draws each. Toronto FC finished slightly ahead of D.C. United, 4th in the Eastern Conference, by virtue of a +5 goal differential, compared to D.C.’s +4 advantage.

Toronto dominated the pace of the game in the first half, attacking early and often and turning opportunities into scores. 20-year-old Ayo Akinala scored a pair of goals in the first half, putting Toronto up 2-0. His first came 12 minutes into the game, on a beautiful strike from the top of the box. He would close out the half with another goal in the 44th minute, taking advantage of the numbers advantage on a fast break. Both goals would be recorded as assists from teammate Alejandro Pozuelo.

While the first half went Toronto’s way, they suffered a blow in the added time before the break: Júnior Moreno was removed from the game with a red card after receiving his second yellow card for unsporting behavior. This would reduce Toronto’s team to ten men for the entirety of the second half.

Still, Toronto looked well on their way to three points with less than ten minutes to play, but D.C. United made a last-ditch effort to get back in the game. In the 84th minute, substitute Federico Higuaín scored on a chip shot in his team debut. Frederic Brilliant then tied the game with a “brilliant” header in the 91st minute.

Akinola would have a chance at a hat trick and game-winning goal in stoppage time, but was denied by D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid.

Toronto lost this game besides dominating D.C. for most of the game. Toronto outshot D.C by a margin of 17 to 8, possessed the ball for 66.4% of the game, and got off 698 passes, more than double that of D.C. United. Despite controlling the ball, even when down a man, Toronto’s defense fell apart in the final ten minutes of the match.

Both teams earn one point by virtue of the draw, leaving the clubs behind the New England Revolution, who earned three points with a win over the Montreal Impact, in Group C.

Houston Dynamo Jump Out to 3-1 Lead, LAFC Battles Back for 3-3 Draw

Los Angeles Football Club dominated MLS last year, finishing with a league-high 72 points in the regular season, a record of 21 wins, four losses, and nine draws, and an outrageous +48 goal differential. Only two other teams (New York City FC with +21 and Atlanta United FC with +15) outscored their opponents by ten goals or more. The only caveat? Reigning league MVP Carlos Vela will miss the MLS is Back Tournament for the safety of himself and his pregnant wife.

The Houston Dynamo left much to be desired, finishing 10th in the Western Conference, winning 12 games, losing 18, and drawing four times. Only four teams were outscored by more goals than the ten that separated Houston from their opponents in 2019.

LAFC also scored 85 goals last season, 22 more than the next closest club (NYCFC.) The Dynamo would have to find the net multiple times in order to keep up with Los Angeles.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Memo Rodriguez would open the scoring with a goal for Houston in the 9th minute. LAFC’s Bradley Wright-Philips was able to tie the game in the 19th minute, but Rodriguez would strike back with his second goal of the game in just the 30th minute.

Three goals already represented the highest scoring half of the MLS is Back Tournament so far, with some games struggling to reach three total goals. But the first half wasn’t done yet. Alberth Ells would extend the Dynamo’s lead to 3-1, heading in a free kick from Darwin Quintero five minutes into stoppage time at the end of the first half.

But LAFC came into the second half determined to at least even the score. They would do so on a pair of back-to-back goals, one in the 63rd minute by Diego Rossi and one in the 69th by Brian Rodriguez.

The match would ultimately end in a 3-3 draw, the highest scoring game of the tournament so far. The Dynamo outperformed expectations, earning a point against last year’s Supporter’s Shield winner. But LAFC still exerted their dominance over Houston on the field. Los Angeles attempted 23 shots, while Houston was only able to get nine off. Still, the Dynamo made the most of these scoring chances.

Los Angeles held the ball for 71.5% of the game, attempted eight corner kicks, and delivered 28 crosses. Houston, with possession of the ball just 28.5% of the time, didn’t attempt a corner kick and delivered only seven crosses.

It’s amazing the Dynamo were able to score three goals under the circumstances, and if not for LAFC’s second-half comeback, they could have came away with a win. Instead, both clubs receive a point in the “Group of Death,” the ultra-competitive Group F.

Timbers Outlast LA Galaxy 2-1 in Even Matchup

The other half of the Group of Death would square off in the 10:30 PM ET time slot on Monday night. The two clubs finished in similar positions in the regular season last year, though they took different paths to get there. The LA Galaxy won 16 games, lost 15, drew three times, and were ultimately outscored by one goal. They still finished two points ahead of the Portland Timbers, who won 14 games, lost 13, and drew seven times, outscoring the opposition by three goals.

Scoring wouldn’t break through until the second half, when the Timbers willed the ball into the goal after an incredible team effort in the box. The ball saw many feet and some nifty movement before a goal by Jeremy Ebobisse, with assists being given to Sebastián Blanco and Diego Valeri.

In the 66th minute, saying Blanco “willed” the ball into the goal for the second time would be an understatement. Multiple times it seemed like Blanco’s time with the ball would come to an end, but he stuck with it and persisted until firing a shot into the back of the net to put Portland up 2-0.

Portland’s game would become a little tougher in the 75th minute, when Dario Zuparic was sent off after collecting his second yellow card. This forced the Timbers to play their final fifteen-plus minutes down to ten men. This played a part in conceding a goal in the 88th minute, a Chicharito score assisted by Gordon Wild and Cristian Pavón. But the Timbers would hold on to win, 2-1.

The matchup on the field was very even. LA Galaxy took 13 shots with four on target, possessing the ball for 51.7% of the game, while the Timbers took 12 shots, six being on target, and holding the ball the other 48.3% of the game.

The win gives the Timbers an outright lead in Group F, ahead of LAFC and the Dynamo, who each hold one point.

Chicago Fire Defeat Sounders 2-1, Seattle on Thin Ice in Group B

Chicago Fire FC made some offseason adjustments after missing the playoffs by just three points in 2019. They outscored their opponents by eight goals, which is more than the 7th place New England Revolution could say: they were outscored by seven goals.

The Seattle Sounders of course won the MLS Cup, but played to a 0-0 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes in their first group stage game. The reigning champions looked to get back on the board both scoring and earning points in 2020.

Due to some rescheduling, this was Chicago’s first game in the MLS is Back Tournament.

The scoring began in the 52 minute, with Chicago’s Robert Beric sprinting from midfield, evading two defenders, and finishing on goalkeeper Stefan Frei all by himself.

Seattle would tie the game in the 77th minute off the foot of Handwalla Bwana and a nifty assist from Jordan Morris.

Seven minutes later, Chicago set up a corner kick, with defender Mauricio Pineda taking the service and delivering it towards the back post.

While the Sounders possessed the ball for over 60% of the time and completed 595 passes and seven shot attempts, the Fire made the most of their more limited opportunities, getting off ten shots and landing five of them on target.

Seattle is currently in danger of missing the knockout round of the MLS is Back tournament. They’ll need at least a win in their final group stage game against Vancouver, and possibly some help in order to maneuver the standings and continue in the tournament. Chicago has three points through just one game, and a chance to add more with two left to play.

Chris Mueller Scores Twice in First Ten Minutes, Orlando City SC defeats NYCFC 3-1

New York City FC came into the fourth game of their 2020 MLS season still searching for their first goal. The club dropped their first group stage game 2-0 to the Philadelphia Union. The hosting club, Orlando City SC, came into the matchup off a 2-1 stoppage time win over Inter Miami CF.

Orlando would waste no time getting going on Tuesday night, with offensive star Chris Mueller delivering early. He connected on a sliding strike from João Moutinho’s free kick delivery in just the 4th minute of the game.

Mueller would score again in the 10th minute, settling a high pass in the box, bringing it down, cutting a step to the right and blasting the ball into the net and past the goal keeper from close range. It was Mueller’s second goal of the game, third of the tournament, and fourth of the 2020 season.

NYCFC’s defense would settle down, and their offense would become more coherent as the first half wore on. In the 38th minute, Jesús Medina scored the club’s first goal of the year. The goal was an absolute strike, hit with laser speed from the top of the box at an angle that left goal keeper Pedro Gallese with nothing to do but stop and watch the ball go in.

New York City would continue to do good things with the ball in the second half, and continued to up their totals in shots and shots on goal. NYCFC ultimately finished with a whopping 25 shots, seven landing on target. Orlando City also landed seven shots on target, but needed only 12 total shots to do so.

Orlando City put the game away in the 81st minute, off the head of Tesho Akindele from very close quarters to go up 3-1.

New York City FC made strides in this match, scoring their first goal, attempting a slew of shots, and holding the ball for 51.7% of the game. At times they looked like the better team on the field, but Mueller’s quick, early goals put New York City in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of.

With their second win of the tournament, Orlando City ensured they would finish either first or second in Group A: securing a spot in the Round of 16. The loss all but eliminates NYCFC with contention: any third place finisher to advance to the knockout round will likely have four points or more.

Union Prevail 2-1 over Inter Miami CF, Clinch Knockout Stage Berth

The Philadelphia Union defeated NYCFC 1-0 in their opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament. Inter Miami CF would hold a 1-0 lead in the tournament’s very first match, but ultimately fell 2-1 to Orlando City SC in stoppage time.

Philadelphia struck first, with Kai Wagner cleaning up a ball that bounced out of the box. The goal would put the Union up 1-0 in just the 5th minute of the match.

Inter Miami would even the score in 36th minute, on a score by Rodolfo Pizarro with assists credited to Matías Pellegrini and Lewis Morgan. 

It was anyone’s game heading into the second half, and the teams were pretty evenly  matched on the pitch.

Philadelphia was able to create its next score with speed and finesse. The Union took the ball from their own 18′, and the lightning fast counter attack was on. The ball was quickly at midfield, and the Union had three attackers with just one defender and the goalkeeper between them and scoring.

Kacper Przybylko found the back of the net off an assist from Brenden Aaronson. The lightning-fast turnaround proved to be the deciding factor in the matchup.

Inter Miami’s Andrés Reyes received a red card eight minutes in to stoppage time at the end of the game, as Miami was searching for a late equalizer.

As mentioned, the matchup was pretty even if you take away the Union’s fast break goal. Inter Miami played a fundamentally sound game according to the statistics: holding the ball for 55.2% of the game, attempting 10 shots, with four on target, and committing three less fouls than Philadelphia. The Union took eight shots, with three on target, while being called for 19 fouls.

The Union clinch a spot in the Round of 16, with six points through two group stage games. Inter Miami finds themselves on the outside looking in, despite competitive games against Orlando City and Philadelphia.

Stoppage Time Goal Lifts San Jose 4-3 over Vancouver in High-Scoring Thriller

This would be the first match of the tournament for Vancouver Whitecaps FC. In 2019, Vancouver was among the league’s weakest teams. The club finished last in the Western Conference, with eight wins, 16 losses, and 10 draws. They scored just 37 goals in 34 games, and were outscored by 22 goals over the course of the season.

The San Jose Earthquakes played the Seattle Sounders to a 0-0 draw in both teams opening group stage game. It was good that San Jose was able to keep the defending MLS Cup Champions in check, but with just two group stage games remaining, the Earthquakes were hungry for an outright win in this one.

San Jose’s last game featured zero total goals. This match alone had seven scores, by seven different players.

The first one was a beautiful ranged shot from Vancouver’s Ali Adnan in the 7th minute.

The next goal would be chalked up as an own goal against San Jose’s Judson Silva Tavares, but make no mistake, Vancouver created the incredible breakaway opportunity on their own.


The Earthquakes got on the board late in the first half, three minutes into stoppage time. Andrés Ríos redirected a corner kick quickly into the goal in the middle of a crowded box, leaving the goal keeper with few to no options to stop the shot.

Cristian Dajome scored in the 59th minute after teammate David Milinkovic intercepted a lazy pass from Daniel Vega, San Jose’s goalkeeper. This would put Vancouver up 3-1 with a half hour to play.

But San Jose wasn’t done yet.

In the 72nd minute, Chris Wondolowski delivered what was in all likelihood, a pass, that eluded both teammates and defenders and ultimately bounced into the goal. It was Wondolowski’s 160th career MLS goal. This would give San Jose plenty of time to search for their equalizer.

This equalizing goal would come nine minutes later, in the 81st minute. Off a corner kick from Magnus Eriksson, Oswaldo Alanís got his head on the ball to put it past the keeper and in to the goal, making the score 3-3.

This would put San Jose in position for their second draw of the tournament, a result that would have left them with just two points through two games. An outright, three-point win would be huge for their hopes to advance to the knockout stage though, so the Earthquakes pushed on for a go-ahead goal.

Eight minutes into second half stoppage time, Shea Salinas plowed ahead with the ball. He lost control briefly to a defender, but stuck with it and booted a shot into the goal, past keeper Maxime Crépeau.

This would be the seventh and final goal of a thrilling group stage match. It was the highest scoring match of the tournament so far, surpassing the six goals put up in a draw between LAFC and the Houston Dynamo.

Despite allowing four goals, Vancouver’s Crépeau recorded eight saves. Vega let in three goals for San Jose, but failed to record an official save.

San Jose dominated in time of possession, holding the ball for 67.7% of the game, and turned those possessions into a whopping 30 shots, 11 landing on target. Vancouver held the ball for 32.3% of the game, and took seven shots, with two on target. It was only a matter of time until Vancouver’s unlikely lead slipped away, as San Jose was the more dominant and decisive team with the ball.

The Earthquakes earn a crucial three points, leading Group B. But with the Chicago Fire and the Whitecaps still having two games to play, as well as the possibility of the Sounders finishing with four points, San Jose will have a lot to play for in their group stage finale.

FC Cincinnati Fights For Unlikely 1-0 Win over Undermanned Atlanta

FC Cincinnati was the worst team in MLS last year by far. In this tournament so far, they’ve suffered a 4-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC. Cincinnati entered the game as heavy underdogs against a talented Atlanta United squad.

It wasn’t pretty, but Cincinnati was able to take advantage of their situation to win their first game of 2020, in unlikely fashion.

I’m no soccer expert, still acclimating to watching and writing about Major League Soccer. But I can tell you with confidence that Cincinnati did not look like a good team on Thursday morning. They had no direction with the ball. When the ball was pushed up field, there was no support given to offensive attacks. An attacker would receive the ball, only to be met by multiple defenders and no supporting offensive players. Even when the ball was, rarely, worked in to Atlanta’s box, Cincinnati didn’t push up with the necessary numbers to sustain an attack.

Combine this with slow passing and sluggish offensive movement, and Cincinnati’s performance had to be one of the worst I’ve seen yet in the MLS is Back Tournament.

But they still won the game.

Atlanta United’s Jake Mulraney was removed from the game after his second yellow card in just 26 minutes of play. This allowed Cincinnati to hold an 11-on-10 advantage for over 64 minutes. At first, they did little to take advantage of the situation, running the same tired, boring offense.

After halftime, Cincinnati didn’t exactly come out swinging, but the team definitely discussed ways to create opportunities with one player on the opposing team.

In the 78th minute, Cincinnati finally broke through. Frankie Amaya, the first overall pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, lashed a beautiful, incredibly skilled shot from completely outside the box. It was the first of what is sure to be many goals in the young career of the 19-year old.

Atlanta would spend the remaining 12 minutes of regulation, and about another 12 of stoppage time, searching for an equalizer. They pushed up and remained aggressive in stoppage time, but couldn’t find their first goal of the game.

Atlanta’s J.J. Williams received a red card for violent conduct in the 100th minute, briefly reducing United’s team to nine players.

While FC Cincinnati didn’t look great in the first half, the one-man advantage ultimately helped them win the shot battle (12 to eight,) and hold an advantage in time of possession (52.9% to 47.1%.)

Neither team was very disciplined, combining for 31 fouls, six yellow cards, and two red cards.

Cincinnati earns an unlikely three points, giving them a fighting chance heading into their final group stage game against the New York Red Bulls. Atlanta United, the second-best team in the Eastern Conference last year, heads into their final match of group play with zero points.

Akinola Hat Trick Propels Toronto FC over Montreal Impact

Montreal Impact and Toronto FC met on Thursday night in an all-Canadian club Group C bout. The Impact looked decent in their first match, but fell 1-0 to the New England Revolution. Toronto FC held a 2-0 lead over D.C. United before settling for a 2-2 draw in the club’s opening match of the tournament.

This would be a much higher scoring affair, with seven goals matching the tournament-high set by Vancouver and San Jose just a day ago.

Eight minutes into the match, Toronto’s Richie Laryea held the ball outside the keeper’s box, but instead of finding a teammate to pass to, was able to drill the ball towards the far post for a goal.

With the next goal coming in just 14th minute, this was destined to be a fun one. Montreal’s Emanuel Maciel delivered an outlet pass to a sprinting Romell Quioto. Quioto was able to shield the ball from his defender and finish in the open field, nudging the ball past Clément Diop.

In the 25th minute, Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti were credited with assists after creating an opportunity for Ayo Akinola extremely close to the keeper.

Saphir Taider would even the score for Montreal once again at 2-2, scoring on a penalty kick in the 37th minute. But this tie didn’t last long, as Akinola would find his second goal of the night in the same minute. Pozuelo found Akinola’s feet again, but this time Akinola had to do a bit of running before delivering a bullet shot with defenders draped right on him.

The 3-2 score would hold until the 83rd minute, giving the Impact plenty to play for in this tight matchup. Just when it seemed Montreal might be due for an equalizer, momentum shifted swiftly in the other direction. Just past midfield, Akinola received an outlet pass, legally shouldered his defender to the ground, and sprinted for a one-on-one opportunity against Diop. Akinola connected his third goal of the night: the tournament’s first hat trick.

Taider scored his second penalty of the night four minutes into stoppage time, and the referees would allow Montreal to get a couple last-ditch attempts at an equalizer. The Impact were unable to capitalize, but the game retained drama up until the final whistle.

Montreal blew this game by handing big chances to the talented Akinola who made them pay. The Impact held advantages in total shots, corner kicks, crosses, total passes, and possessed the ball for 58.8% of the game. But Toronto was able to turn eight shots in to four goals, which is tough to beat in MLS.

Toronto earns three points and a win after drawing D.C. United in their first game. Toronto could still finish away from first to third in Group C, but hold the top position fr the time being with four points. Vancouver starts their tournament with a loss, but still has two more games of group play to complete.

Columbus Doesn’t Allow Shot on Target, Shuts out New York Red Bulls 2-0

After a slew of high-scoring games, Columbus Crew SC and the New York Red Bulls slowed it down a bit for some late Thursday night action. Both teams won their opening matches, with the Crew downing FC Cincinnati 4-0 and the Red Bulls squeaking out a 1-0 win over Atlanta United.

Columbus opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, weaving through New York’s defense and scoring on a Gyasi Zardes shot, with assists being credited to Pedro Santos and Chris Cadden. It was Zardes’ fourth goal of the 2020 MLS season in just four games played.

Columbus would retain their 1-0 lead into halftime, before scoring again shortly after the break. On a breakaway opportunity, Derrick Etienne patiently held the ball despite his defenders, waiting for the perfect moment to find Lucas Zelarayán for a strike from the top of the box.

And that was pretty much all she wrote for this game. New York wasn’t abysmal, they held the ball for 48.3% of the game, attempted seven shots, and created an impressive 27 crosses. But the Red Bulls weren’t able to turn a single one of these opportunities in to a shot on target.

Columbus landed three of their 12 shots on target, fouled three less times, and cleared the ball defensively 14 more times than New York did.

Columbus clinches a first or second place finish in Group E, securing a spot in the knockout round. Their plus-six goal differential ties Orlando City and the Philadelphia Union for the highest marks in the tournament through two games. New York still has a chance heading into their final group stage matchup.

Updated Group Standings


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