It’s nice to say it, MLS is finally back! The MLS is Back Tournament kicks off at 8 pm E.T. on Wednesday from Orlando, Florida with hosts Orlando City playing Inter Miami in the first-ever Florida Derby. While Columbus Crew SC isn’t playing till Saturday, it only makes sense to get some predictions and brackets in from some of our Massive Report staff to see what is going to happen over the next month.
Staff members filled out a full tournament bracket and explained some of their hot take picks for MLS is Back as well as in-depth discussion on where they think the Black & gold will finish and who the Crew’s Most Valuable Player will be in Florida. We also predicted the overall tournament MVP.
So here are our staffs picks for where the Crew will go in this tournament and who will be crowned MLS is Back champions.
Collin Johnson’s predicts Seattle Sounders defeat Columbus Crew in final
Crew Performance: Before the recent positive test by one Crew player and the withdrawal of FC Dallas, I would have expected Columbus to have a strong tournament finishing first or second in Group E as well as winning at least one match in the knockout stage. At this point a successful tournament is one where no one gets sick, no one gets hurt, while grabbing a few points for a hypothetical regular season coming in a distant third. Still, the Black & Gold have the talent to make a deep tournament run and should do just that.
Crew’s MVP: Midfield stability will be key in this tournament and there are few midfielders more stable than Darlington Nagbe. Crew fans will finally get to see the Akron alum make his mark on his home-state team.
Bold Tournament Picks: Javier Hernandez will score his first official goal for the LA Galaxy, FC Cincinnati won’t score a goal in the whole tournament, multiple rivalry/MLS Cup rematches will occur in the knockout round and, although I picked Atlanta United, my bold prediction is that the Five Stripes, without any of the attacking help they’ve signed in this “offseason,” and without Josef Martinez, will fail to make it out of the group stage.
MLS is Back MVP: Even though I don’t have him as the Crew MVP, Gyasi Zardes will be both the Golden Boot winner and the MVP of this tournament.
Guilherme Torres predicts Columbus Crew to quarterfinals; Toronto FC over Seattle Sounders in the championship
Crew Performance: I like the Crew’s chances in this tournament. The team played well in the first two matches of the season and don’t have a ton of new players to acclimate in the starting XI as several of the other title contenders do.
By doing the bracket, though, I realized that if the Crew advance in first or second place, it would be set for a tough matchup with either the winners of Group C (most likely Toronto FC) or Group B (most likely the Seattle Sounders) in the quarterfinals. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Black & Gold get to the semifinals or even the final, but I think that’s where it will end for the Crew, in the quarterfinals.
Crew’s MVP: I expect the matches in the tournament to be played at a slower pace than typical MLS games. The warm weather in Florida will be a factor as it will affect match rhythm, especially at the beginning of the tournament, and both of these elements indicate teams will run less and move the ball more. That’s where Darlington Nagbe excels. I imagine his teammates will turn to him a lot and he’ll deliver, becoming the team’s most important player in Orlando.
Bold Tournament Picks: I think we’ll see another Toronto-Seattle final. If they win their groups, they’ll be on opposite sides of the bracket and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them advance all the way to the final again. Toronto has changed the least between the two, so I’ll take them as the winners. As for bold predictions, I have Los Angeles Football Club failing to get out of their group. They won’t have Carlos Vela and I’m not sure they’re really interested in this tournament.
MLS is Back MVP: I’ll take Alejandro Pozuelo. He’s clearly the most talented player on Toronto’s roster, especially considering Jozy Altidore resumed training later than his teammates. I expect the Canadians to rely a lot on Pozuelo’s game, especially in dead-ball situations.
Orri Benatar predicts: Columbus Crew to Round of 16; Los Angeles Football Club prevails
Crew Performance: With FC Cincinnati in Group E, the other three teams in the group should be getting three points easy. That puts the Crew in a phenomenal position to at least make it out of the group stage in third place, which is the spot I have them advancing out of.
Even without Josef Martinez, Atlanta United is the strongest squad in this group and should finish first. The Columbus-New York Red Bulls encounter on July 16 and goal difference will determine second place. Columbus would likely face Sporting Kansas City or New York City FC in the Round of 16 with a third-place group finish. Either way, the Round of 16 is where I have the journey for the Black & Gold ending in Orlando.
Crew’s MVP: Having a stamina-filled, accurate-passing midfielder can give your team a massive edge in a month-long tournament and Darlington Nagbe is that guy. He might not light up the stat sheet with goals or assists but his effect for the Crew will be on full display in Florida and he’ll be the MVP.
Bold Tournament Picks: Yes, even without Carlos Vela, I got LAFC winning the tournament. They still have a strong squad from top to bottom and Diego Rossi will fill Vela’s shoes for Los Angeles and run with the opportunity to shine. I believe Sporting Kansas City and the Montreal Impact make runs while the LA Galaxy is my shock team out by the group stage.
MLS is Back MVP: Diego Rossi for me will sparkle at this tournament and score some fantastic goals to get LAFC an early Champions League place. Eduard Atuesta will also be splendid for LAFC as the hard-tackling midfielder. Co-Runners-Up, Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda from Kansas City.
Jay Homan predicts: Columbus Crew loses to champs New York City FC in semifinals
Crew Performance: This tournament is going to be a chaotic mess, which I think actually plays into the Crew’s favor. Typically, teams with as many newcomers as the Crew struggle for a while until the players gel. That won’t be as big of an issue in the MLS is Back Tournament since all the teams will be out of sync after months off.
Add in the fact that little is known about the rotation players on the squad and how Porter plans to use them, and the Crew may be able to spring some surprises on their opponents throughout the tournament.
Crew’s MVP: Artur. This tournament is going to test all the players’ endurance. The heat, the humidity, the extreme kickoff times. In my opinion, whoever can log the most minutes throughout the tournament will deserve MVP. In this instance that will likely be a position where there is limited depth or a utility player who can fill in multiple roles. There are few players with experience at the defensive mid, and with Nagbe likely to be roaming into the attack, it will make Artur’s time on the field vital.
Bold Tournament Picks: New York City FC has been on the verge of being considered an elite club the last several seasons and this tournament seems like the time for the team to stake its claim. Orlando City is the “home town team” of the tournament. With all the chaos going on, you have to believe that any advantage will carry you forward in this tournament.
I also have the Montreal Impact winning its group. Thierry Henry knows how to win summer tournaments and will want to make an impact (pun intended) in his first season coaching in MLS. Expect the Impact to take the tournament more seriously than other clubs.
Tournament MVP: Héber of NYCFC. A scoring player on the team I am expecting to win the tournament. What else do you expect from MLS?
Drew Niccum predicts: Columbus Crew lifts the trophy
Crew Performance: The Crew is going to win this tournament. I’m not normally so bullish, but I think Columbus is in a good position to go far and secure its first Champions League berth since 2011. The Black & Gold are in a very winnable group and the Crew has proven in the last few seasons that the team can push to perform at a higher level in knockout games. Some luck will probably be required, but a focused and defensive Crew can go all the way.
Crew’s MVP: The Crew’s MVP will be Darlington Nagbe. If Columbus wins this, it will be because of Nagbe’s control of the midfield. I talked about this in the original season predictions, but his ability to break down opposing counterattacks and pressing makes him one of the best midfielders in the league. He knows what it takes to win, having been on two title-winning teams. I have no doubt that Nagbe can marshal the midfield, push the rest of the team and the Crew to victory.
Bold Tournament Picks: Like I said, the Crew is winning this thing. On top of that, the Black & Gold are going to beat the Seattle Sounders in the final. Beyond that, I actually think the New England Revolution and Sporting Kansas City are set up pretty well and could challenge. I also believe Inter Miami could be fun to watch and actually can make the knockout stage, only because I have no faith in Orlando City. And I absolutely expect the LA Galaxy and D.C. United to be train wrecks.
Tournament MVP: With no Carlos Vela, the tournament MVP and top scorer is going to be Raúl Ruidíaz. He has had absurd postseason performances for the Sounders and I don’t think he’s going to let up for the tournament. If Seattle makes it to the final like I think they will, Ruidíaz will be the main reason why.
Abigail Hintz predicts: Columbus Crew SC to the final four; Atlanta United wins it all
Crew Performance: Coming into the 2020 MLS season, Caleb Porter’s squad held a lot of promise. New transfers like Youness Mokhtar and Lucas Zelarrayan were itching to prove themselves but were only given a taste of the pitch in a black and gold kit. However, that taste held promise and fans are looking to see what this team is truly capable of in the five-week tournament.
In an ideal situation, with all 18 players healthy, the Crew has a real chance to take the tournament. With one positive test already looming over the first game this Saturday, it may not be smooth sailing to that end, but if the team is focused and sharp they could lift the trophy in August.
Crew’s MVP: Jonathan Mensah. The Black & Gold captain has a chance to leave a mark on this unconventional season for his team. Columbus will need a leader through the tournament if the team is to make a deep run, and I see Mensah stepping strongly into that role. Not only that, but between him and Vito Wormgoor, opposing strikers will have a tough time breaking through that backline.
Tournament MVP: Javier Hernandez. With Zlatan Ibrahimović no longer in the spotlight in for the LA Galaxy and Jonathan dos Santos injured and out of the tournament, Chicharito will have the chance to make a big impact for his team. This requires, however, that his team step up and get him in positions to make the big plays. The Galaxy had a slow start to the short beginning of the season, so the team will be looking to right its ways in the tournament.
Thomas Babcock predicts: Toronto wins the title after Columbus Crew loses in semifinals
Crew Performance: I think that the Black & Gold can go far in this tournament. While their group does contain Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls, I am confident that Columbus can finish at least second in the group and I anticipate the team winning its games against New York and Cincinnati.
Once it gets to the knockout stages of the tournament, I think that there is strength in depth with players like Chris Cadden, Milton Valenzuela and Derrick Etienne Jr. I predict the Black & Gold to make it to the semifinals at a minimum.
Crew’s MVP: This is a tough call given the nature of the tournament’s compressed schedule and questions about team and individual fitness. With that said, I think the Crew’s MVP will be Eloy Room.
I base this off of the fact that he will most likely play the most minutes for the Black & Gold, and that a key component of this tournament will be winning close games and the ability to handle a potentially rotating backline in front of him. In the last Gold Cup, Room’s performance for Curacao stood out in the tournament and I expect him to do the same here.
Bold Tournament Picks: Overall, I think that this tournament will have teams that, while on paper, look as though they should dominate opponents, there is a question of desire coupled with the ability to mentally focus on the matches at hand. Another important thing to note is the depth options for each team.
Those teams that are top-heavy may struggle given the schedule and the weather down in Orlando. Expect chaos from this tournament but do not be surprised if we see the same two teams in the tournament final in the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC. I think Toronto gets some measure of revenge for its defeat in last year’s MLS Cup Final.
Tournament MVP: Raul Ruidiaz of Seattle is the type of player built for a tournament like this; he just scores goals and is consistent in doing so. Seattle is a team that is very strong and has strength in depth so I expect them to go far in this tournament. Ruidiaz’s ability to hold up the ball when needed, combined with his 1 v. 1 play, speed and technique make him a very dangerous player for everyone and if he gets on a roll, there may be no stopping him.
Doug Hildreth predicts: Columbus Crew fall in last four; Seattle Sounders are champions
Crew Performance: I expect the Crew to come out fairly strong. The team started the season with some good form that just hadn’t gelled yet, and I expect that to develop a little over this tournament. With a significantly weakened Atlanta United team, I could see the Crew come out on top of its group. From there, I see the team gaining momentum for a deep run. Depending on seeding, the Black & Gold may hit some roadblocks, but I expect relative chalk in the actual knockout part of the tournament.
Crew’s MVP: This is one of the utility players’ time to shine. While I expect big things from Lucas Zelarayan, the condensed nature of the tournament is going to require quite a bit of rotation. I could see Chris Cadden becoming a bit of a fan favorite with his versatility and personality throughout.
Bold Tournament Picks: This one is tough because the condensed nature and overall *gestures wildly* nature of the “bubble” will undoubtedly lead to some real talent being left off the pitch. Teams with the best depth will survive. I could see one if not both LA teams making deep runs as well as the New England Revolution.
Tournament MVP: Without some of the biggest stars of MLS (no Josef Martinez or Carlos Vela), and with the unusually condensed tournament schedule, look for a utility or relatively unknown to shine. That being said, I think MLS will look to one of its faces for MVP. Jordan Morris from thee Seattle Sounders or Ezequiel Barco from Atlanta are my picks.