If the Union beat Orlando City on Monday and win their group at Major League Soccer’s summer tournament, the prizes will go beyond advancing to the knockout stages.
For starters, the Union would, in theory, get an easier opponent in the round of 16, at least on paper: one of the four third-place finishers to advance instead of the second-place team from Group C. (Though the way things are going, Atlanta United and the Los Angeles Galaxy could be among the third-place teams.)
The Group A winner’s round-of-16 game is an 8 p.m. kickoff Saturday, while the second-place team plays at 10:30. As the Union learned firsthand last week, the late kickoff takes some adjusting to in the days before it.
There’s also a prize that isn’t getting widespread attention but has Jim Curtin’s focus. Because MLS will count group-stage results toward the regular season if it resumes, the Union will have nine points in the bank if they beat Orlando.
“Usually, once you get through, the tendency is ‘Whew, we worked so hard, we got through, we won our two games, all right, let’s take the foot off the gas, let’s rotate the team,’ " Curtin said. “These games, you’re fully motivated to get a result.”
Curtin predicted that both sides will “field our best teams.” It helps that they’ve had six days since their last games, and will have five days until their round-of-16 contests. So there’s room for the usual starters to get some rest. Still, Curtin said he’ll probably do a little rotating.
One change will, of course, be at defensive midfielder, required by José Andrés Martínez’s suspension. Another could be centerback Mark McKenzie. He has played in both group games so far, starting with Jack Elliott against New York and Jakob Glesnes against Miami. Glesnes had a decent game in his start, recording 40 touches, 23-of-30 passing, six clearances and a block.
Soccer teams usually don’t rotate centerbacks too often, but the Union have shown they can. Elliott and Glesnes haven’t started together yet, but they ought to be able to complement each other.
Glesnes said the whole centerback unit built chemistry after the players emerged from the coronavirus lockdown.
“In the training [sessions], we were changing a lot, and because of this time we started to know each other,” he said. “All [are] very good centerbacks, and it’s easy to step in and play well. ... It’s different between them, but we make it good whichever of us is playing.”
Orlando has looked impressive in the tournament in beating Inter Miami and New York City FC, 2-1 and 3-1, respectively. Chris Mueller has scored three goals, and former Manchester United winger Nani has played like the star he is: a goal and an assist vs. Miami and three chances created vs. New York.
“They’re confident right now, and they’re flying,” Curtin said. “They really have a commitment to get numbers in the box, and right now when balls go into wide positions you’ll see three and four guys come flying into the [TV] screen.”
ESPN to televise game
ESPN announced Sunday night it has added English-language broadcasts for the Union-Orlando game and two other group-stage contests that were originally to air exclusively on Spanish-language TUDN.
Though TUDN offers English audio via SAP and free on Twitter, those broadcasts aren’t well known beyond the soccer fan base. TUDN will keep Spanish-language rights for the three games, but won’t offer English commentary.
The Union-Orlando game (8 p.m.) will be on ESPN’s main network. The others are Tuesday on ESPN2: Atlanta United vs. the Columbus Crew (8 p.m.) and D.C. United vs. the Montreal Impact (10:30 p.m.)
Bubble holding firm
MLS announced Sunday that it has now gone four days without any new positive COVID-19 tests in its Disney World bubble. That’s a very good sign that the bubble is holding firm. Monday will mark two weeks since the last team arrived on site, meaning the league will soon clear the standard incubation period for the virus.
From July 14 to 15, the league administered 1,406 tests to 1,124 individuals. From July 16 to 17, the league administered 1,354 tests to 1,114 individuals. Though the league didn’t detail the difference in individuals, members of FC Dallas and Nashville SC -- the two teams kicked out of the tournament due to virus outbreaks -- have been allowed to go home in small groups when cleared by medical staff.