There are many strange things about Major League Soccer. So, it’s not at all surprising that the upcoming “MLS is Back” tournament in Orlando also contains a bunch of quirks.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all 26 teams will have to deal with living in quarantine at a Disney resort, and with playing games before no fans. But the Chicago Fire will have a couple additional challenges—including, how to contend with playing in the tournament’s only six team group.
“It is a fact that it is a little more difficult to qualify in a group of six than a group of four,” Fire head coach Raphael Wicky said in news conference today. “It’s a fact, but it’s out of our hands. Again, the league decided to do that, we were drawn into that group, and now we’re focusing on the games we have against New York City, Nashville, and Inter Miami.”
There are two teams in Group A the Fire will not play— Orlando City and the Philadelphia Union. The top two teams from each group automatically advance to the knockout stages, along with the four best third place teams. Wicky is right—the six teams in Group A do have a smaller chance of making it though when compared to the groups of four, but the Fire have a couple things going—in Miami and Nashville, they drew both of the league’s expansion teams. And, statistically, there’s a high probability one of the advancing third place teams will come from Group A.
“Everything else, we can’t control, we try not to lose too much energy onto that,” Wicky said. “It’s the same with the heat, the hot July, August, all of that. But, it’s out of our control. We will do the best we can to prepare.”
In today's conference call, I asked Fire head coach Raphael Wicky about the challenges that come from playing in the only six team group at #MLSisBack. #cffc #cf97 pic.twitter.com/Ed54lRRjID— Patrick McCraney (@patrickmccraney) June 16, 2020
The MLS is Back tournament has three slots for kickoffs—9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. As an Eastern conference team, it’s likely the Fire will grab at least one 9 a.m. kickoff. That’s something pro soccer players haven’t had to contend with since their youth days, and will present another challenge.
Wicky said the biggest issue could be helping players adjust their eating schedule.
“If you think of a pre-game meal, and you play at nine, you should normally eat three-and-a-half ours before, that makes it 5:30 in the morning,” Wicky said with a smile. “Sometimes you eat pasta, spaghetti before the game. Rice and chicken, or whatever you eat? So, I don’t know. Yeah, we’ll see how that will work out.”
I also asked Raphael Wicky about the Fire potentially playing in a 9 a.m. ET game at #MLSisBack.— Patrick McCraney (@patrickmccraney) June 16, 2020
I would suspect MLS would want to limit the 9 a.m. slot to just Eastern Conference teams, so the Fire will probably get a morning kickoff at least once.#cffc #cf97 pic.twitter.com/EErUXpEWaU
The Fire began full team training this week in Bridgeview, and are awaiting work on the final schedule for the MLS is Back tournament, which starts July 8.
One great bit of news: a team spokesman said at the moment, all of the Fire’s players are healthy.