It’s been awhile since Chicago Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein played in a competition like the “MLS is Back” tournament, with more than two dozen teams, a group stage, and knockout rounds.
It was ten years ago this week, when the United States Men’s National Team played in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“To have experienced it first hand was a dream come true,” Bornstein said in a video provided by the club. “Something truly interesting about the format is the games actually come so quickly, one behind the other.
“It’s exciting soccer. You get one game, and the fans can turn on another game right away. So, every day you get good, high quality soccer. I’m expecting the same from this Orlando tournament.”
Because MLS has 26 teams, the group stage will feature five groups with four teams each, and one group with six teams. (For those asking why MLS didn’t do two groups of five, it would make scheduling three games each impossible.) The Fire drew a spot in the six team group, where they’ll play Inter Miami, NYCFC, and Dax McCarty’s Nashville SC—a match new play-by-play guy Tyler Terens has already dubbed “El Daxico.”
The Fire’s group also contains Orlando City and Philadelphia Union, meaning even if the Fire take care of their business, there’s still going to be a bit of scoreboard watching. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage, along with the four best third place teams.
“It’s different,” Fire winger Fabian Herbers said. “It’s exciting because you can win a cup in like five or six games. So, it’s a unique understanding for us, how we’re gonna approach that. I think it’s exciting, and for the fans, it should be exciting as well.”
While the format is new to everyone, the entire league is still new to Fire outside back Boris Sekulić, who joined the team after the most recent match against New England.
“I’m new here, so I don’t know exactly who are the good teams, but we analyzed some video while we were in quarantine, and I’m sure coaches will prepare us,” Sekulić said.
After the lengthy break, MLS is easing teams back into practice with three phases—individual training, small group training, and full team training. Because different cities and states are in various stages of the COVID-19 recovery, only a handful of teams have moved on to full team training. The Fire are currently in the small group training stage, which allows for passing and some interaction between teammates, but it must be at a distance.
New striker Robert Berić said the Fire really need to advance to that final stage.
“To go in the last phase of the training, that we can feel each other on the pitch, tactical training so we can prepare ourselves, I hope we can achieve this soon,” Berić said.
The Fire would need to be cleared by both MLS and state and local governments to begin full team training. If the team can’t obtain that clearance, it could travel to Florida early to begin training there. The tournament starts July 8, and MLS is promising a schedule soon.
“I cannot wait to play the games,” Berić said.