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Six Degrees: The Orlando Plan, Part Deux

Photo by Zichuan Han from Pexels

So, did you hear what happened in Timberdom this week? Something.

Yes, I was shocked, too. After months of absolutely nothing, I wasn’t sure something was still an option. But, no, it happened. Some real, live something actually happened. Let’s get into it.

1) The something in question is the MLS Is Back Tournament. Yes, that’s the actual name, and yes, I’m disappointed, too. MLS usually brands the shit out of things like this. And the Continental Tires MLS Is Back Tournament Brought To You By Cheez-Its was right there for the taking, too. C’mon, MLS. You’re better than this.

Anyway, if you read my column from two weeks ago – the DeMann Cup – you’ll see a lot of similarities. It’s based on the World Cup, with a group stage and then a series of knockout rounds. My imaginary tournament had eight groups of four, while this has five groups of four and one group of six. Also, I seeded the teams, while MLS only seeded the top team in each group. Also, the DeMann Cup brought in six teams from the USL, which would have been awesome, but apparently, MLS doesn’t like things that are awesome.

On the whole, though, the two Cups are similar. If you want to read details on the MLS version, go read this, then come back. We’ll wait.

2) First thing of note: the game times. The games will be at 6 a.m., 5 p.m., and 7:30 p.m West Coast time. At first, I thought it was a typo, but no, it’s real. The first games are really starting at six in the morning. And even more surprisingly, it actually makes sense.

They wanted to avoid games in the middle of the day, since Orlando, Florida in July is scorching hot and oppressively humid. Playing them in the early morning (9 a.m. East Coast time) and after dark (8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) will definitely help.

It does raise questions, though. Who plays when? Will they really make west coast teams play at 9 a.m., since to our body clocks, that’s six in the friggin’ morning? Alternately, will they really make east coast teams play the 10:30 games, which won’t finish until 12:30 in the morning?

It’s possible that the whole east coast/west coast thing won’t be any sort of problem for the players. Maybe if they get to Orlando a couple weeks before the tourney, everyone’s body clocks will be completely reset. I dunno. What I do know is that, for all of us fans back home, some of these games are gonna be a challenge to watch. I mean, are east coast viewers willing to stay up past midnight? Are west coast viewers willing to get up for a six in the morning kickoff?

The more I think about this, the more I think they’ll do eastern teams earlier and western teams later. If not for the players, then for the fans.

3) Next thing of note: the three group games will count as regular season games. We already played games 1 and 2. Remember those, from like forever ago? We got pounded 3-1 by Minnesota in our home opener, then had a really sad and boring 1-0 victory over Nashville. Those were the first two games of the year, and our group stage games will be numbers 3, 4, and 5.

First question: why not have knockout games count, too? While the winners play on, the losers can continue playing each other.

Probably they decided the scheduling math would be too hard, and it’s easier to just let the losers go home and have training camp for a couple weeks, while the winners stay in Orlando, keep playing, and call that their training camp. Seems reasonable.

Second question: how many regular season games will there be this season? Surely not the full 34. That would be a ridiculous work load. Cut it in half to 17?

I would argue for a 15-game season. With 15 games, we’d need to play 10 games between the end of the MLS Is Back Tournament Powered By Duracell and the end of the regular season. Which is actually pretty do-able. Looking at this year’s schedule, I can see that we were already supposed to have 10 games in August, September, and the first week of October. And we were going to do it without a single mid-week game.

So, yeah, in a perfect world, a 15-game season seems quite reasonable. Of course, this isn’t a perfect world and who knows what will happen with COVID-19 over the next four months, but best case scenario, we can do 15 games. After that, we might even have normal playoffs and a normal MLS Cup.

4) But that’s a long way off. For now, we’re focused on the Geico Insurance MLS Is Back Tournament Sponsored By Burger King Buy One Whopper Get One Free.

I watched the group selection show, with the plastic balls and the folded up papers and Charlie Davies sweating bullets because he was scared he’d mess it up on live television, and I gotta tell you: it was fun. I’ve missed MLS so much that even watching a guy pull team names out of a salad bowl got me excited.

Here’s where everyone ended up.

5) I’ve heard people saying that we’re in the Group of Death, but I’m not sure I agree. LAFC’s a buzzsaw, of course, but the Galaxy? They started the season 0-1-1 and looked horrible doing it, sending in cross after cross after cross despite no longer having big, tall Zlatan Ibrahimovic to get on the end of them. And Houston, they also started 0-1-1, with a goal differential of -4. Forgive me, but I’m not convinced either of these teams are any good.

The problem? I’m not sure if the Timbers are any good, either. Remember, we got straight-up spanked by Minnesota in our home opener, then we played an ugly and demoralizing bunker-like-your-life-depends-on-it-even-though-we’re-at-home-and-playing-an-expansion-team 1-0 win over Nashville. Neither of those games fill me with confidence.

One bit of good news, though? Teams that sit deep and counter often do well in tournaments, and if there’s one thing we know about Gio Savarese, it’s that his teams can sit deep and counter. Hell, we sat deep and countered our way to the 2018 MLS Cup. It’s also how we beat LAFC in last year’s US Open Cup.

In other words, I’m mildly optimistic about our chances.

6) In fact, let’s go ahead and make some predictions.

I’m picking NYCFC and Philly from Group A. Dallas and San Jose from Group B (fuck Seattle). New England and Montreal from Group C. SKC and Minnesota from Group D (the real Group of Death). Columbus and NYRB from Group E (sorry Atlanta, but Josef’s hurt). And Portland and LAFC from Group F.

Now I need to pick four 3rd place teams to make it to the knockout rounds, so I’ll go with Toronto, Colorado, Chicago, and Atlanta (quick reminder: fuck Seattle).

At that point, I’m not sure how the teams will match up. I’m not sure if Eastern teams continue playing Eastern teams, or if the conferences get mixed together.

It doesn’t matter, though, because the Timbers are gonna make it to the final and win the whole damn thing. Why am I so sure? Because Gio’s an Every-Game-is-a-Final kind of coach. Because Diego Valeri’s going to continue his 2020 theme of “a goal every game” while Diego Chara’s going to continue his 2020 theme of “a yellow every game.” Because not only is Jarosław Niezgoda going to be healthy (and, hopefully, looking great), but we’ll have Cristhian Paredes and Jorge Moreira back from injury, too. And, most importantly, because our sole remaining injured player is Dairon Motherfucking Asprilla, and if you think Dairon Motherfucking Asprilla is going to let this tournament happen without getting up off the trainer’s table, limping out onto the field, and scoring at least one ridiculous goal, then you don’t understand soccer at all.

Go ahead and put money on it: Dairon’s scoring the winning goal in the championship game and the Portland Timbers are going to lift the 2020 Lipton Iced Tea MLS is Back Tournament Brought to You by the New Chevy Tahoe trophy. It’s gonna be glorious.