Toronto FC: Breaking down ‘MLS is Back’ tournament opponents

Anthony Jackson-Hamel of the Montreal Impact and Michael Bradley of Toronto FC. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Anthony Jackson-Hamel of the Montreal Impact and Michael Bradley of Toronto FC. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /
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Toronto FC
D.C. United versus Toronto FC. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

We present our preview of the three teams Toronto FC will face in the group stage of the “MLS is Back” tournament in Orlando.

With MLS slated to be the first major North American sports league to return to action, Toronto FC is gearing up for the World Cup-inspired restart on July 8 in the athletics’ resumption capital of the world; Orlando, Florida.

Due to the Reds’ status as 2019 runners-up, they are one of the six teams seeded in the group stage. This means, hypothetically, an easier road to the knockout phase. Without further adieu, let’s break down their three group opponents:

Toronto FC vs. D.C. United

Included in TFC’s group are their first-round playoff opponents from a season ago. However, this D.C. United team is missing the main attraction from last year; the English national team’s all-time leading goalscorer, Wayne Rooney.

In a league that in recent years has been desperately trying to shed its reputation as a retirement home, Rooney stood as an outlier; an aged player who played selflessly and with heart, and will go down in the annals of MLS history for moments like this.

In last season’s playoff, Rooney’s chutzpah was enough to get D.C. into extra time at BMO Field. TFC came out firing in the extra period however, bagging four goals (including a stunner scored by former D.C. man Nick DeLeon), to secure the rare 5-1 extra time victory.

With Rooney now back in England working as a player-coach for Championship side Derby County, D.C. United won’t be able to count on his leadership to navigate the peculiarities that will undoubtedly come with this unique tournament. However, they do come to Orlando with a little more fire power.

Coming over from Columbus Crew in early March, veteran Federico Higuain will be getting a taste of life outside of Columbus for the first time in his nine-year MLS career. Similar to Rooney’s new role at Derby County, the 35-year-old Higuain will also act as a player development coach.

Also newly added into the fold is 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel. The former Atlanta United standout quickly blossomed into a top tier MLS midfielder, and is coming off of a career-high six-goal season.

D.C. United brought in another prolific MLS veteran in Ola Kamara, after he returned from a spell in the Chinese Super League in August 2019. However, he has only played seven matches for D.C. due to a combination of injuries and managerial decisions. With Rooney out of the fold, manager Ben Olsen found room for Kamara in United’s first two matches this season.

All three of these stalwarts have MLS pedigree, but remain largely unproven as members of the Black-and-Red. TFC squares off with D.C. United at 8 p.m. EST on July 10.