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6ix on a Wave: 3 thoughts on the “MLS is Back” return-to-play plan

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With all that’s going down in Florida, will the league still follow through with its plan to play?

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Nashville SC
MLS Commish Don Garber won’t need to pack that coat.
The Tennessean-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

TORONTO, Canada—Soccer is back, and it’s weird.

We’re about a month deep into the slow and belaboured re-emergence of the beautiful game; I’m not counting the Belarussian Prem for two reasons: 1) It never shut down 2) After watching several matches, I’m still not entirely convinced it’s actually soccer.

We’ve seen empty Bundesliga grounds, EA sports designed digital fans, and high-tech sex dolls in the stands. We’ve seen rust. We’ve seen exhaustion. We see you, Alphonso Davies, living all our best lives.

And now, we stand at the precipice of finally getting to see our beloved Reds back in action, as Major League Soccer prepares to travel en masse to Orlando for a World Cup-style Tournament they have dubbed, with zero imagination, the “MLS is Back” tournament. This doesn’t wash. We’ve been calling it “The Mickey Mouse Cup” here at WTR HQ. You are all welcome to use it, of course.

We’re all justifiably excited. TFC is back, and we have a chance to undo the Canadian Championship loss to les bleus and get right back where we belong: in the Concacaf Champions League. The $1.2 million purse ain’t bad either.

I have some thoughts, however. 2.5 of them, to be exact. Let’s start with the positives:


MLS NEEDS TO DOUBLE DOWN ON THE PARITY ANGLE

After watching the other leagues restart—and come to some kind of twisted regularity—I can’t help but notice just how many dead rubber matches we’ve seen. The disparity between the top teams and the also-rans in these leagues is kind of ridiculous. In Europe, domestic leagues have essentially become camps for the better teams to prepare for the UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues.

Let’s be real for a second. This is absolutely the week where I levelled up from “Footy’s back! Let’s watch everything!” to “West Ham v Wolverhampton? I can probably give that a miss”. I wonder how many of you feel the same.

We all know one of the mitigating factors, perhaps the single largest factor, with this MLS tourney is the timing. The league and ESPN are desperate to be first out of the gate in North America for maximum eyeballs.

MLS needs to double-down on the parity angle. In my opinion, this is the league’s greatest strength: that any team can have its day. Considering all the new attention the league and ESPN expect to accrue by the sake of being first; I’d hope the league leans HEAVY into this.

There’s been a lot of accusations of shenanigans with respect to the draw that put Toronto in the same group as Montreal, LAG in the same group as LAFC, etc. While I’m inclined to agree with a certain measure of draw fixing, my hope is it doesn’t matter and this tournament showcases just how unilaterally competitive MLS is.

HOW WILL WEAKER TEAMS HANDLE THE NEW ‘5 SUBSTITUTE’ RULE?

I’m a BIG fan of this new rule. If you missed it, clubs will now be permitted to submit a 23-player matchday roster (as opposed to 18) and managers will be able to substitute up to five players per match (as opposed to three). It’s worth noting these subs are limited to three rounds per game.

Not only does it insulate teams from injuries due to rust and Orlando’s hellscape at the outset, but it allows for a whole new set of tactical wrinkles and dark arts gamesmanship. We already heard Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney say that he may use the new threshold as an opportunity to give some of his younger players a go.

In a league like ours, where squad depth is in a constant war with the salary cap, I think we will see much more of #playing the kids, as well as coaches making wholesale changes to the team around 50’-65’.

I’m very excited to see how teams that don’t have a bench like Bayern Munich (!!!!) handle the extra options.

ARE GAMES GOING TO BE ABLE TO BE PLAYED SAFELY IN FLORIDA?

Here’s the bad stuff, the concerns.

Watching the news is unavoidable, and the news brings regular reminders that Florida is the unofficial new hot-spot in the USA, and the situation appears to worsen daily. Are they going to be forced to abandon the whole enchilada?

There’s a good chance that force majeur might once again be a buzzword around MLS circles. It’s safe to say it’s not looking good down south.

Also, Orlando is HOT. It’s as humid as satan’s armpit and often cloudless and mercilessly sunny. Perfect weather to wait in endless queues to be strapped into 3D this or that.

I know clubs get 5 subs and cooling breaks, but the weather is going to be a big concern. It will absolutley take the recently vacated spot of “12th man”.

Greg Vanney had some thoughts on playing in Orlando on this weeks Footy Talks Live:

What’s the community thinking? Are we all in on The Mickey Mouse Cup? Do we think it’s irresponsible? Let us know in the comments!

THIS WEEK’S PLAYLIST:

Since the numbers of the day are “2” and “5”, here’s 25 tunes that have been keeping me happy through quarantine.