After a livestreamed draw that strained credulity even by MLS standards, New York Red Bulls fans now know which teams they will square up against in next month’s #MLSisBack tournament. RBNY will face long-term conference rivals Atlanta United and Columbus Crew as well as a quick return encounter with FC Cincinnati following March’s season opener.
54 matches. 26 teams. 6 groups. 1 champion.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 11, 2020
The #MLSisBack tournament is set. What’s the toughest group? pic.twitter.com/q8rPSi7PQ8
While precise scheduling will be released at a later date, the competition will feature World Cup-style group play with three televised matches every evening beginning with a Florida derby match between Inter Miami and Orlando City on July 8th.
Red Bulls fans will surely be familiar with Atlanta United, which has quickly become one of the club’s top rivals since entering the league in 2017. After several ferocious high stakes matches including a playoff tie won by Atlanta on the way to the title in 2018, the rivalry cooled off in 2019 as both clubs stuttered after the installation of new coaches. Frank De Boer’s side, which finished 3rd in the league last season before bowing out in the Eastern Conference semifinals, returns much of their spine from recent years - although notably missing will be prolific striker Josef Martinez, who underwent surgery in March following a severe knee injury in February’s regular season opener.
While earning less fanfare than the recent encounters with Atlanta, fellow inaugural club Columbus Crew has quietly been one of Metro’s most familiar foes. From Crew’s victory in the 2008 playoff final to the testy matchups between Jesse Marsch’s energetic press and Gregg Berhalter’s methodical possession systems, the two clubs’ peaks have frequently overlapped through the years.
An additional wrinkle in the Columbus setup is the presence of forward Derrick Etienne Jr, the Red Bulls academy product who left the club in the offseason following an acrimonious and unsuccessful loan to FC Cincinnati. Etienne expressed characteristically reserved thoughts on the matter moments after the draw.
Lol God works in mysterious ways!!!— Derrick Etienne Jr (@detienne_10) June 11, 2020
FC Cincinnati will once again face RBNY, perhaps quicker than they expected when the season was suspended in March just one week after their 3-2 season-opening loss in Harrison. While the FCC side that visited for that game was still reeling from the messy departure of head coach Ron Jans following the use of racial slurs, the team Red Bulls will face in Orlando will be the under conspicuous new management, the legendary Dutch international defender Jaap Stam. While the club’s unveiling of the former Manchester United and AC Milan enforcer as their new head coach last month hit some embarrassing snags, their squad will hopefully be much more organized than the listless side seen three months ago.
Highlights from the rest of the league’s draw for the quarantined month-long tournament (where group stage matches will be meshed into the eventual regular season results) include an El Tráfico derby between LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC, the bad-blooded Kansas City/Salt Lake feud, and the aforementioned first-ever matchup between Orlando and new in-state rivals Miami.
With opponents in place, Red Bulls fans can finally start to visualize what promises to be the most hard-fought preseason tournament ever arm-twistingly assembled by a shadowy cadre of sponsors and media backers.