Major League Soccer got exactly what it wanted when the LA Galaxy were drawn into a group headed by Los Angeles Football Club, today.
The live draw, conducted by MLS, was a spectacle in its own right. A person representing each team of the three seeded clubs for the Western Conference — Seattle Sounders, and LAFC –, as well as representatives for the three seeded teams in the Eastern Conference — Atlanta United, Toronto FC, and Orlando –, chose from numbered balls in front of former MLS player Charlie Davies. Davies would then open those balls which contained the name of that teams’ opponent in the group.
The Eastern Conference was drawn first with a complete breakdown of all selections below.
But when it came to group F, LAFC drew the Galaxy’s number “W4” on the first try. Also added to the group were the Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers.
Group F should largely be described as the infamous “Group of Death.” LAFC was a preseason favorite to win MLS Cup in 2020 and are undefeated in the only two games they played this year. The Dynamo drew with the Galaxy 1-1 in Houston in the season opener and looked comfortable doing it. And the Galaxy haven’t beaten Portland away from StubHub Center since June of 2016.
But to advance in this tournament, they’ll need to finish in the top two positions in the group or be one of the four best third-place finishers. That would put the Galaxy into the Round-of-16, and a chance at the semifinals, and the Championship game.
The three group play games — a schedule will be released in the coming days with games starting on July 8 — will all count toward a 2020 regular season that is expected to kick off after the August 11 conclusion of this tournament.
Gameday rosters have been expanded with five additional players. That means that the Galaxy, who have 24 players currently on the roster, would only have to leave one player out for a total of 23 gameday options.
Under IFAB rules, this tournament will also be played with a total of five substitutions for each team instead of the usual three. And there are restrictions on how often you can stop play to substitute players onto the field (just three times).
But the tournament isn’t without its controversy. Just a little over 60 minutes before the live draw was to be held, news broke that Orlando, a seeded team, would be playing Inter Miami in the tournaments kick-off game. Orlando is heading the only group with six teams, and Miami was placed there by MLS outside of the random draw.
More controversy came when instead of drawing balls from a bowl or other container, Davies instead had numbered balls sitting on a rack in front of him. Team representatives then would pick the number of the ball they wanted before the name inside was revealed.
This system is hardly random, is susceptible to patterns or trends, and could easily be tampered with. Did any of that happen? It’s unlikely. But technically, it’s also unlikely that MLS would get an LAFC vs. Galaxy matchup – an Orlando El Trafico — a game between Toronto FC and Montreal, and a game between Cincinnati and the Columbus Crew.
MLS got the matchups it wanted, for the most part. But it also lived up to its constant criticism that it lacks transparency and merely bends the rules to suit its whims.
A World-Cup-type tournament in the middle of a global pandemic was always going to have an asterisk next to the results. But it seems, in effecting the balance of play in the group stages — games that count for regular-season points — MLS added an asterisk to an asterisk.
For their part, the Galaxy just need to find a way out of group play.