We know the format. We know the groups. We have the schedule. It's time to go ahead and actually start wondering about who might win the MLS is Back Tournament.
While it may well be a fool's game to pick favorites when all the teams will have been out of action for four months when the action begins, there are certain clues that can be taken in this novel situation. Naturally, a deep roster will come in handy during a short hot-weather tourney that allows five subs in a game, but there are many other variables to weigh.
Some teams may feel confident about their track record of success in playoff situations, while others will be motivated by their lack of it. Style of play also matters against what are sure to be rusty foes, with set-piece prowess, counter attack acumen and stinginess at the back among the more encouraging traits to own in this situation.
New York City FC
NYCFC's squad depth make them a contender | USA Today Sports Images
Yes, you could point out that the Cityzens thus far have a tendency to come up short when the games go into playoff mode. It has become a thing for NYCFC, and there's only one way to shed the "regular season wonders" tag. They are certainly built to win, with a good blend of painters and plumbers, balance across lines and supplemental offense available from the bench regardless of who starts.
As is the case with all the teams listed here, the Loons have a squad of contributors that runs deep. They're also a team that can shut things down at the back, and a strong defense tends to make one a genuine contender in short tourneys. The winter addition of Luis Amarilla has given them a proper lead scoring threat. Minnesota United nearly grabbed a crown in last year's Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, and the trajectory of improvement they're on should make them very dangerous in Orlando.
Kacper Przybylko is a key part of a deep Union squad | USA Today Sports Images
With key pieces Kacper Przybylko and Kai Wagner back to fit, the Union are once again loaded for bear. Like Minnesota United, Philly are deep, a pain in the butt to play against and eager to graduate to winning honors. Like FC Dallas, they're spoiled for sturdy central park rangers and speedy transition weapons. After dropping three Open Cup finals, is it finally time for this club to reach a mountain top?
A roster loaded with players known for bringing it in tournament settings? Check. Personnel and system continuity from the run that earned them MLS Cup last fall? Check. Adequate cover all over the field? Check. Perhaps most importantly, is drink-stirring skipper Nico Lodeiro back from injury? Check-a-roo. The Sounders should be on everybody's shortlist of favorites (though we will grant grudge exemptions in Portland and Vancouver).
Eduard Atuesta and Diego Rossi had a lot to celebrate in 2019 | USA Today Sports Images
After shattering records left and right during the 2019 regular season, Bob Bradley's boys ended 2019 without a tournament trophy. One would imagine that makes them hungry to finally prove they can bring home prizes, and this tournament offers the next chance to get that monkey off their back. It would be silly not to consider them a major threat. There is one caveat, though: With no Carlos Vela, who is staying home with his pregnant wife, LAFC probably drops from the favorites short list to a helluva team with a puncher's chance.