Rivalries front and centre as MLS announces tournament group draw
Toronto FC drawn with Montreal Impact; Whitecaps, regional rival Sounders grouped
Rivals will be reunited in Florida as Toronto FC was drawn with the Montreal Impact in Group C at the "MLS is Back Tournament."
The two Canadian teams are joined by D.C. United and the New England Revolution.
The Vancouver Whitecaps also can look forward to a regional rival, placed in Group B along with the seeded Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas and San Jose Earthquakes.
Los Angeles FC and city rival Galaxy will clash in Group F in a draw that must have left league executives smiling as MLS returns to action after its COVID-19 hiatus.
Organizers set up another derby by placing expansion Inter Miami in Group A with Orlando City. The Florida teams will face off to kick off the tournament.
The 54-game World Cup-style tournament runs July 8 through Aug. 11 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in the Orlando area.
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The draw was conducted by conference, with three groups from each.
Each team will play three group games, which will count in the regular-season standings. The top two in each of the six groups plus the four-best third-place finishers advance to the knockout round of 16.
The hope is the league, once the Florida tournament is completed, can continue the regular season with a revised schedule in home markets.
The draft was a low-key affair conducted online with former U.S. international Charlie Davies using what looked like a salad bowl to pull red balls out of to match seeded teams with their groups.
Officials from the seeded clubs then called out numbers from one to 10 and Davies opened up the requested balls to unveil the teams in their group.
401 Derby renewed
Toronto FC GM Ali Curtis chose No. 7 to start with and saw a slip of paper with Montreal Impact written on.
"It's tough group," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney, who celebrated his 46th birthday Thursday.
"As fate would have it we have Montreal, which makes for an exciting game and something for the fans to be excited about as well. So I know our guys will be anxious and excited to play Montreal.
Montreal Impact midfielder Samuel Piette welcomed playing Toronto.
"I felt that it was written in the sky that we needed to be together in the same group. I think it's good. ... To face Toronto is always an extra motivation, for sure, and it will be in the tournament."
The one thing Vanney liked was that three of the four teams — Toronto, Montreal and New England — are coming from the relative north and will all have to adjust to the heat and humidity of central Florida. A less attractive scenario would have been drawing a team used to the steamy conditions, he said.
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Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos called his group "incredibly balanced" and relished facing Seattle.
"If you're going to have a competition like this it's important to have games that are important also for our fans," he said
Games will begin at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. ET with most in the evening, the league said. The early and late starts were chosen because of the Florida weather.
Vanney is fervently hoping he can avoid a 9 a.m. start, which he said would require a 5:30 a.m. pre-game meal and meeting "which is unique to say the least."
Central Florida is "blazing" by 10, 10:30 a.m., he said.
"It does present some challenges for sure," he said. "We'll figure it out.
Teams face a minimum of three games and maximum of seven.
Vanney said he will take his entire 30-man first team roster as part of a delegation of 46 or 47, the maximum the league is allowing.
"We'll be maxed out. And when you take that many players, support staff is really important because it's all hands on deck between trainers, your coaching staff and everything to make sure that we're able to service all the players that we have down there.
"This could be three weeks, it could be five weeks, I think, tops. We don't want to leave everybody behind."
Toronto is expected to start full team training on Monday with both captain Michael Bradley (ankle) and Argentine attacker Pablo Piatti (hamstring) recovered from injury.
The exact schedule and TV details will be announced at a late date
The tournament carries a $1.1 million US prize pool with the winner earning a berth in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
Players will receive prize money for each win throughout the tournament, as well as for advancing to the round of 16, according to the league which did not elaborate further. A spokeswoman for the MLS Players Association said the bonus structure is still being finalized.
New York City FC
San Jose Earthquakes
New England Revolution
x-Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City
New York Red Bulls
x-Los Angeles FC
Los Angeles Galaxy
x - Seeded team