By: Matt Watkins
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview: Group D Analysis
Who is in Group D (Alphabetical): Colorado Rapids, Minnesota FC, Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC
Similar to Group A, D has a pair of teams that, in theory, should break away from the rest of the group if both history and the 2019 standings hold true with Real Salt Lake and Minnesota FC. Both were comfortably in the postseason last year with RSL making it to the conference semis for a second straight year.
However, as Lee Corso, pundit extraordinaire of the “other” football would say, “not so fast, my friend!” Colorado surged at the end of last season, just missing the playoffs and KC was atop the table through the first two matches of the year. This very well could be the toughest group in the tournament with a good shot that someone, after having to beat each other up in group play, who would otherwise have chance at making a deep run, might not wind up advancing.
(Note: All times listed are EST)
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group D: Colorado Rapids
Synopsis: Last year represented a changing of the guard in many ways for the Rapids, changing managers a third of the way through the season and moving away from the legendary Tim Howard in goal. Howard announced his retirement before the season and was on the bench for seven of nine matches late in the season before returning for his home farewell (a clean sheet, of course) and the season finale as Colorado had already been eliminated. Through it, the team that mustered just two points through the first 11 matches of the season, finished the year 12-7-4 and was 2-0-0 at the suspension of play in 2020.
Reason for Optimism: Ball movement. Jack Price emerged as of the MLS top distributors in 2019 with 11 assists following four, most coming late in the year in 2018. Keegan Rosenberry has been able to spur a counterattack from his defensive placement, resulting in two assists in two games this year. Any time you have players who are creative enough to be able to move the ball in distribution, you’ll have a chance.
Cause for Concern: Rust. For as bad as the Rapids began last year, they’ve been good this season. Something clicked along the way, even with a mostly returning roster. Clint Irwin made the net his area to defend and has done it well. Colorado was primed for a big season, will they be able to continue carry momentum after four months off?
Critical Group Stage Match: July 22 vs. Minnesota FC, 10:30 p.m. – The standings to start 2020 were completely flipped in the Western Conference with three of the teams in this group all 2-0-0, including Colorado and Minnesota. If Colorado can match the firepower of Minnesota, there is a good chance they advance.
Prediction: Advances to knockout, but write it in pencil as it will in likely be as a wild card.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group D: Minnesota United FC
Synopsis: After a couple of rough seasons to start the franchise, Minnesota finally broke out last year, qualifying for the postseason and gave the LA Galaxy a battle before falling in the final 20 minutes. Minnesota led MLS in goals through two matches, both road contests, in 2020.
Reason for Optimism: They can score. A lot. When you face Minnesota, you need to be tactically strong and hold your shape in the back because they will shoot, shoot, and shoot at every opportunity. Need proof? 28 shots including 14 on target in two matches. United has three players with two goals already in this season. MUFC will find the back of the net.
Cause for Concern: Experience. Minnesota FC is in just its fourth season and has only played in one postseason match. How do players hold up under pressure when they haven’t felt it on this stage before? This may not be a concern point in the group stage, but in a one-and-done knockout, it’s a different story. If there is a reason to temper those concerns, it would be last year’s run to the U.S. Open Cup finals.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 12 vs. Sporting KC, 8:00 p.m. – These were the two teams that were atop the Western Conference when the season was halted. They’d scored as many as the next four highest scoring teams in the conference combined. The winner of this group opening tilt will hold a major advantage in advancement. It’s a testament to the scoring prowess of both teams that the oddsmakers don’t have a clear favorite here with both teams having a plus money line (KC – +179, Minnesota – +125).
Prediction: Advance to knockout.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group D: Real Salt Lake
Synopsis: RSL has been steady throughout its history, advancing to the conference semifinals in 2018 and 2019 while qualifying for the postseason in 10 of the last 12 years. This year did not get off to a good start, however, with a pair of draws and just one goal in two matches.
Reason for Optimism: Defense. A little quick math shows that if you’ve tied two contests while only scoring one goal, it stands that you’ve also only allowed one goal in those two matches. Zac MacMath has thusfar taken advantage of his second act as he hasn’t been a full time starter in goal in six seasons, but has conceded just one tally in 180 minutes this year. A large part of that comes from a back line that has forced him to see just four shots on target in that time.
Cause for Concern: Scoring. Last year’s leading goal scorer for RSL, Albert Rusnak has mustered just three shots this year, none of them on target, and Sam Johnson hasn’t seen the pitch. Three scoreless draws won’t get it done.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 12 vs. Colorado, 10:30 p.m. – The ability to keep the ball out of the net will be tested in the final two matches of the group stage, so Real Salt Lake needs to take advantage of the team in the group that has the least firepower, relatively speaking, if they want to have a chance.
Prediction: Does not advance past group stage.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group D: Sporting KC
Synopsis: After eight consecutive years of making the playoffs and winning the Western Conference regular season in 2018, Sporting KC saw the bottom fall out in 2019, tumbling to 11th place, totaling just 38 points and posting a -18 goal differential, the first negative goal season since 2009. KC appears to have rebounded this year, starting 2-0-0, outscoring opponents 7-1.
Reason for Optimism: Back Line. Sporting KC is a defense first team, always has been, which is what made a club record 67 goals conceded last year such an outlier. We’re talking about a team that allowed even 50 goals in a season just once since 2000. The back line has found its form again, allowing just six shots on goal in two matches. Granted, those matches were against Vancouver and Houston, but you have to start somewhere.
Cause for Concern: Quality of competition. Remember when we just said that Sporting KC needed to start somewhere in its defensive rebuild? That somewhere was with the worst team in the conference last year and the worst team in the West early this season. That is all about to change.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 12 vs. Minnesota, 8:00 p.m. – See description of this match under Minnesota synopsis. Rinse. Repeat. Any edge for KC comes from its defense.
Prediction: Advance to knockout.