Any type of World Cup-style tournament comes with strategy — beyond the desire to win every game played, of course. The group stage, in particular, presents the dual desire to keep a squad physically sharp while also ensuring knockout round qualification.
As is typical during these unique times across the globe, the MLS is Back Tournament further complicates those considerations.
With every club's three group stage games counting toward the regular season, there are no consolation games, regardless of if a team's qualification prospects are determined prior to that final game. The 16 teams that advance to the knockout rounds will be pushing for the trophy, and with it, a Concacaf Champions League berth.
"Our objective is to try and win all three of those [group] games so we can continue to stay at a good pace in the league," Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes told reporters on a video conference call. "Everything else is icing on the cake from there."
Sporting are in one of the most difficult and balanced groups of the tournament alongside Minnesota United, the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake. They open play on July 12 against Minnesota.
"It's another interesting aspect of the tournament," Sporting captain Matt Besler said. "It's something I've thought about: If you win your first and second game, then you're through to the knockout round already. In a normal tournament setting, you'd rest as many guys as possible and approach that third game completely different than this tournament. ... I know Peter has thought about it, he'll be as prepared as anybody."
Vermes, Besler and the rest of the squad will depart on Sunday for Orlando, where the league continues to provide updated testing results. The latest update announced that FC Dallas had six positive tests, the only positives among the whole MLS delegation.
For now, Sporting are not worried nor hesitant about traveling down to Orlando.
"We're looking forward to going down there and starting the tournament," Besler said. "There's some things that we don't know how they're going to play out yet. We're hearing certain things from teams that are down there, but until we get down there and experience it for ourselves, it's hard to really predict what it's going to be like."