The MLS is Back Tournament draw has come and gone, and we now know the three teams Orlando City will face in Major League Soccer’s return to action at the Walt Disney World Resort next month. The Lions will take on Inter Miami CF, New York City FC, and Nashville SC as part of the tournament’s group stage, with the three games all counting towards the regular season standings.
The game against Inter Miami was actually announced before the draw even happened, as a recognition of the state of Florida for hosting the tournament. Orlando and Miami will play in the very first game of the event on July 8, marking the return of Major League Soccer after a four-month hiatus for the coronavirus pandemic.
Miami failed to earn a result in either of their first two games, but there is a substantial amount of talent in the David Beckham-backed club. Manager Diego Alonso has won multiple titles in Mexico, and leads a squad headlined by El Tri regular Rodolfo Pizarro. The expansion team was built with a strong defense in mind, as GM Paul McDonough (formerly of Orlando City) brought in MLS veteran midfielders Wil Trapp and Victor Ulloa, defender Roman Torres, and goalkeeper Luis Robles to shore up the spine, with Argentine center back Nicolás Figal also playing a key role.
Orlando fans will be very familiar with New York City, the club with whom the Lions have perhaps the most history out of any in MLS. NYCFC was present for Orlando’s inaugural game in 2015, the first-ever match at Exploria Stadium in 2017, and the Lions’ first-ever U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal win last year, now known as the Running of the Wall. NYCFC returns almost all of the team that finished atop the Eastern Conference in 2019, with the significant exception of the head coach–Domé Torrent is succeeded by Norwegian Ronny Deila, best known for a stint at Scottish heavyweights Celtic from 2014 to 2016. It remains to be seen if Deila can get the best out of this talented group.
Nashville is maybe the biggest unknown of all. Moved to the Eastern Conference specifically for the tournament, the Tennessee club is led by English manager Gary Smith, whose first head coaching job was in MLS with Colorado from 2008 to 2011 (where he was coincidentally followed by Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja). Nashville, like Miami, is fortified in defense, with American internationals Walker Zimmerman and Daniel Lovitz leading what appears to be a strong back line. Nashville will need Designated Player Hany Mukhtar, a German signed from the Danish top flight, to step up on the offensive end.
Orlando City’s tournament group is unique in that it features six teams, rather than four. So while the Lions will not face the other two members of the group, Chicago Fire FC and the Philadelphia Union, Orlando will be competing against those sides for placement. The top two teams in the group are guaranteed to advance to the knockout round of 16, while four of the six third-place teams will also move on.