MLS is Back: Group E Preview

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ATLANTA, GA – MARCH 07: Atlanta United starters huddle prior to match against FC Cincinnati, which Atlanta won, 2-1, in front of a crowd of 69,301 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during a game between FC Cincinnati and Atlanta United FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 07, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Perry McIntyre/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The MLS is Back Tournament commences on Wednesday night. Here is a full preview of Group E, which features two stalwarts and two up-and-comers.

The MLS is Back Tournament starts this week. Here is a full preview of Group E, which consists of Atlanta United, FC Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew.

Both Atlanta and NYRB made the playoffs in 2019, with Atlanta losing at home to MLS Cup runners-up, Toronto FC, and the Red Bulls losing in the first round in an extra-time thriller against Philadelphia. Columbus and Cincinnati, on the other hand, were far from playoffs in 2019, finishing 10th and 12th in the Eastern Conference respectively.

Here is what to expect from Group E.

MLS, Atlanta United

US Atlanta United Brooks Lennon reacts after losing their CONCACAF Champions League first leg football match against Mexico’s America at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on March 11, 2020. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP) (Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)

Atlanta United

2019 Record: 2nd in the Eastern Conference; Conference Finals

2020 Results: 2-1 win vs. Nashville SC; 2-1 win vs. Cincinnati

Head Coach: Frank de Boer

Projected Starters: Brad Guzan; Anton Walkes, Fernando Meza, Brooks Lennon; Jake Mulraney, Eric Remedi, Emerson Hyndman, Laurence Wyke; Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martinez, Jurgen Damm

Notable Absentees: Josef Martinez — Will miss the tournament due to an ACL tear in March

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This Atlanta United team is far from the one fans have come to expect over the past three seasons. The results were still there at the start of 2020, but after top goalscorer and former MLS Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez tore his ACL, the team has struggled to find someone to fill the gap. Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez have increasing chemistry, but the central figure meant to get in behind the defensive line is yet to be found.

The losses of Darlington Nagbe and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez have been filled easier than many expected. Atlanta has been busy during the season’s hiatus. They signed 17-year-old Tyler Wolff to a homegrown contract and acquired some speed in attack through Jurgen Damm. It is still unsure how, if at all, Damm can acquaint himself with Barco and Pity Martinez before their first match.

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