- The MLS is back on July 8 in the form of Orlando’s MLS is Back Tournament
- Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls & Columbus Crew are all less than +300 to win Group E
- We preview the group and look for some good odds
The MLS finally springs back into life on July 8 when the MLS Is Back tournament kicks off in Orlando. The 26 teams will be split into six groups – three from the Eastern Conference and three from the Western – with the top two in each group, plus the two best third-placed teams going through to the round-of-16. From there it’s the traditional knockout format culminating in the final on August 11.
We’ll take a look at Group E, their early-season form, and try and identify where the value is.
MLS is Back Tournament – Group E Odds
|New York Red Bulls||+220|
Odds taken on July 4.
Atlanta United (+150)
Atlanta start as favorites to win the group with good reason. Two wins from two in their opening two regular-season games – over Nashville and FC Cincinnati – got them off to a flyer and the MLS Cup winners of 2018 look in great shape, after falling at the penultimate hurdle (Eastern Conference Final) last season.
They open the tournament with a game against the Red Bulls, face FC Cincinnati in their second game, and finish with Columbus Crew, and so if they can get a win over their biggest rivals first time out they have immediate control of the group.
The enforced break has enabled them to get Miles Robinson and Franco Escobar back from injury, and they have a squad well equipped to not only win this group but to go a long way in this tournament. One aspect worth noting is how they will cope with the fan-less scenario as United are used to being roared on by massive crowds.
New York Red Bulls (+220)
Red Bulls had a disappointing 2019 by their standards and, after finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference, they exited the playoffs in the first round after losing to Philadelphia Union.
Prior to lockdown, they had looked in fairly good shape this term and an opening day 3-2 win over FC Cincinnati got their 2020 off to a flyer and was followed up with a solid 1-1 draw away to Real Salt Lake. They open in Orlando with a very tricky one against Atlanta United, face Columbus Crew SC in their second game, and end the group stage against FC Cincinnati (again). The opener will be key.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) June 24, 2020
Much will depend on how the Red Bulls’ new signings settle and it’s certainly a different-looking, more youthful line-up to the one they had last season. A concerted effort to shift some of the older, more experienced players was a gamble but one that had positive early signs. One young player who won’t be with them is Josh Sims, who returned to Southampton (in the EPL) when his loan expired on June 30.
Columbus Crew SC (+275)
A 10th-place finish in last season’s Eastern Conference represented a mediocre season for the Crew, who will be looking for a playoff place when the regular season gets under way. And the early signs were promising, with them collecting four points from their opening two games – a 1-0 win over NYCFC and a battling 1-1 draw with reigning MLS champions Seattle Sounders.
First up in Orlando is a winnable-looking game against FC Cincinnati in what is known as the Hell is Real rivalry, before things get even tougher, with games against the Red Bulls and Atlanta United in the space of five days.
A successful squad overhaul in the winter months means the Crew squad has more strength in depth this time around as well as having matchwinners in the form of midfielder Lucas Zelarayan and striker Gyasi Zardes. They have a chance of winning this group.
FC Cincinnati (+700)
Last season was Cincinnati’s first in the MLS and so a lowly 12th place finish in the Eastern Conference wasn’t considered a disaster, but they’ll be hoping this season is a step up.
It didn’t begin particularly well for them though, with two away defeats, ironically against two teams in this mini-group, with a 3-2 defeat in New Jersey against the Red Bulls being closely followed by a 2-1 defeat in Atlanta. Two games, two defeats but, crucially, two good performances from two very tough games.
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) July 2, 2020
So, in some ways, as they’ve taken two of their Group E rivals close twice already this season, they’ll come into this tournament with some confidence. Much will depend on their opener in the Ohio Derby with Columbus, but if they can get something from that game, expect to see them give it a real go against the Red Bulls on July 16 and one week later against Atlanta.
Pick: 1st: Atlanta United (+150) / Columbus Crew to also qualify from the group.
Let's have fun and keep it civil.