So the stage has been set.
MLS returns in an unfamiliar guise on July 8 when Orlando City take on Inter-Miami in front of no fans in Florida, where a World Cup-style tournament will ensue.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and while the newest MLS-development is not ideal, it’s probably a step in the right direction.
We don’t yet know exactly what the dates are for all the games, but we know the draw and we know that Montreal Impact has been drawn in an attractively competitive group, where any of the four could secure the top two positions and advance.
Tournament football is a completely different ball-game to regular-season MLS, so expect surprises. How players will react to playing without atmosphere and fans adds another unknown, and of course there’s no longer any such thing as home advantage.
It was almost inevitable you felt that the Impact would come out of the hat drawn against great-rivals Toronto FC. It seemed destined in the stars, but their groups has turned into something akin to a mini-Northeast championship, apart from the New York clubs of course.
Montreal enjoys records of parity with both New England and DC United since entering MLS in 2012 and in fact has already defeated the former (2-1 at Stade Olympique) this season, so there’s a real chance of progress. Regards the clash that most fans will look forward to, Toronto FC, well that one really could go either way.
Impact won’t start favourites to win the group, Toronto will, but it’s not imperative to finish top. Second will do, even third might, and therein lies one of the main peculiarities of tournament football.
Elsewhere there would be mouth-watering ties, but the lack of fan atmosphere has reduced LA Galaxy v LAFC, Orlando City v Inter-Miami and Cincinnati v Columbus to public-park contests.
Still it’s a move in the right direction.
I’ve found it difficult to watch the Bundesliga games without fans in the stadium. It’s nowhere nearly as tempting to switch-on when your team’s not playing, and this from someone who’d watch almost any game, but I will look forward to games involving the Impact, and of course Manchester United when the English Premiership resumes. Apart from anything else, it’s one’s duty.
All Florida group stage results only will count towards regular season games. It is anticipated that regular-season football will resume at some stage later this year with all teams playing eight home games and eight away. Added to the three games each club will play in Florida and the two already played at the start of the new campaign, this will provide a regular season of 21 matches per club.
The other interesting thing of note from the Florida tournament is that the winners, even if they are Canadian, will earn one of the USA’s four berths in next season’s CONCACAF Champions League.