With all 36 of the MLS is Back Tournament group-stage games complete, the competition moves on to the knockout round as the field whittles down from 24 to 16 — and with plenty of on-field drama along the way. Pretournament favorites like Atlanta United FC (who were held scoreless in all three of their games) and the New York Red Bulls are out, along with five-time MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy.
As we embark on the round of 16, new favorites have emerged, teams we’ve come to expect great things from, like LAFC, and outfits that have taken the tournament by surprise, like Columbus Crew SC. We break down the 16 remaining sides, and what they’ll need to do to reach the quarterfinals and beyond.
Perennially underachieving Orlando entered the tournament to little fanfare, but Chris Mueller has provided goals and a sense of urgency that has lifted the Lions to wins against Inter Miami CF and NYCFC — to say nothing of Nani‘s ever-present influence. In a group with D.C. United, New England and Toronto FC, few would have expected Montreal to make the knockout rounds — something not lost on Thierry Henry, who’s been quick to remind of his group’s underdog status — yet here it stands.
Henry’s men have oscillated between pragmatic and expansive as he’s experimented with his XI, and the Impact will need to return to the former approach — as they did in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 win over Costa Rican powerhouse Saprissa — to stifle Nani, Mueller and a revitalized Tesho Akindele. There is a belief among Oscar Pareja’s team and keeping them from making a run in their home town will be a tall order for Montreal.
Our pick: Orlando
The Union’s goals have come from a variety of sources, but the spark brought by 19-year-old Brenden Aaronson has often lit their fuse — and if not him, then 34-year-old super-sub Ilsinho. Much has been expected of the Revs this season, and with Bruce Arena managing such creative and clinical attacking threats, it’s easy to understand why. That said, they’ve scored just four goals in five games this season, and only two in the MLS is Back Tournament, which makes playmaker and captain Carles Gil‘s probable absence due to a reported foot injury all the more troublesome.
Arena’s tactical and motivational nous can never be discounted, but it’s how Scott Caldwell and Kelyn Rowe can shield the back line and handle Philly’s multidimensional threats that will determine whether they’re able to upset one of the Eastern Conference favorites in 2020.
Our pick: Philadelphia
No Jozy Altidore, no problem for Toronto, which has witnessed Ayo Akinola blossom from promising youth academy product to potential U.S. men’s national team (or Canada or Nigeria, should he so choose) call-up, following his five goals in three games and all-around devastating form in this tournament. NYCFC have a dubious penalty awarded by Victor Rivas on the group stage’s final evening to thank for their place in the round of 16, a call that knocked Houston out of the competition and saved the Bronx side’s place after an underwhelming group stage in which their sole victory came against hapless Miami.
There was an element of misfortune to City’s group-stage struggles, however, controlling possession and creating more chances in all three of their contests. With versatile attackers like Valentin Castellanos and Alexandru Mitrita, NYCFC have the ability to overwhelm a Toronto back line that lacks mobility especially against pacy attacks. But Akinola has been downright unplayable throughout this tournament, and that’s why we give the Reds the edge.
Our pick: Toronto
After their late collapse that cost them three points against Minnesota — a game in which they dominated for an hour or more — Sporting rebounded with two impressive wins behind a reborn Khiry Shelton in a hotly contested Group D. Vancouver conceded seven times in its first two matches before managing to keep a clean sheet against an increasingly suspect Chicago side, and were outshot 74 to 19 along the way. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the Canadian club is without 10 first-team players at this tournament.
Sporting put together a plus-20 shot differential in their group stage, so they can expect chances aplenty against the Caps. As long as Alan Pulido and the rest of the SKC front line remember to lace up their scoring boots, there’s little to suggest that Vancouver can slow down the league’s second-most prolific attack in 2020.
Our pick: Sporting KC
After a cagey scoreless draw with MLS Cup champion Seattle in their opener, the Quakes scored six times in their next two matches, dictating play and out-chancing their opponents in all three group-stage contests. In RSL’s two games without Albert Rusnak after he suffered a hip injury against Colorado, they still managed to control the tempo but were shut out and out-chanced.
On paper, Salt Lake has enough attacking threat to offset Rusnak’s loss, but his absence is felt most in creating chances, the burden of which will fall primarily on the shoulders of Corey Baird, who didn’t go 90 minutes in either of RSL’s second two matches. Despite two clean sheets in this tournament, San Jose’s goals-against column this season sits at 10 in five matches; if the Quakes are to go any further, they’ll need to keep things as tight at the back as they did against Seattle and Chicago.
Our pick: San Jose
San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski tells Taylor Twellman he’s open to returning for one more season.
As is tradition in Seattle, the Sounders sleep-walked through their first two matches of the tournament — picking up a solitary point in the process — before Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz came up big in a win over Vancouver, scoring the goals that saw them come through in second place from Group B. There is no doubting the firepower of Supporters’ Shield holders LAFC, who’ve notched 11 goals in three games, led by Diego Rossi (5) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (3), but questionable defending and goalkeeping saw them concede seven times and ultimately cost them top spot in Group F and what (on paper) would’ve been a more straightforward path to the quarterfinals in a matchup with Cincinnati.
If Seattle’s attack can get rolling like it did in its win over Vancouver, it has the pieces to outgun LAFC’s vulnerable defense, but dropped points against San Jose and Chicago demonstrate that that’s no given. Even if this contest were to devolve into a wide-open, run-and-gun affair, Bob Bradley & Co. will still like their chances.
Our pick: LAFC
Columbus has the most points of any team in the league, has yet to concede a goal in this tournament, all while scoring seven times in their three wins in Orlando. Caleb Porter’s Crew are undoubtedly the darlings of MLS is Back. Minnesota was outplayed for large stretches of all three of its group-stage games so far, but has developed an incredible knack for playing brief, outstanding periods of soccer, as was the case with a pair of stoppage-time goals to snatch a win against SKC and two goals in the span of seven minutes in a draw vs. Colorado.
Ozzie Alonso and Hassani Dotson will need to be exceptional in helping shield the Loons’ back line from the breathtaking Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe, because without two-time Defender of the Year Ike Opara, Minnesota will struggle to contain Zelarayan, Gyasi Zardes and Youness Mokhtar — who’ve combined to score all seven of the Crew’s goals in Orlando.
Our pick: Columbus
Coming into the tournament, few would’ve predicted Cincinnati would advance from a group that contained Atlanta, Columbus and the Red Bulls — fewer still after they were rolled 4-0 in the Hell is Real derby. But some organized defending and moments of brilliance from Frankie Amaya and Yuya Kubo have led the second-year franchise to an unexpected run to the knockout rounds. Portland has looked startlingly vulnerable in Orlando, being out-possessed in two of its three group-stage games and out-chanced in all three, but has managed to find ways to win behind the influential play of Sebastian Blanco and the goals of blossoming forward Jeremy Ebobisse.
Since its drubbing at the hands of Columbus, Cincinnati has kept clean sheets against two Eastern Conference powers in Atlanta and the Red Bulls, and the organization that Jaap Stam has instilled in his side since his arrival has every chance of frustrating the Timbers’ creators. But while the Oregonian club may not have been overpowering in this tournament, it’s demonstrated an ability to grind out the results needed to win a group that contained both Los Angeles clubs.
Our pick: Portland
David Benavidez vs. Roamer Alexis Angulo: Fight preview, prediction, start time, card, odds, Showtime Boxing
When ranking the most TV-friendly boxers in the game today, no list would be complete without unbeaten David Benavidez. It just so happens the 23-year-old is also one of the best fighters in the world at 168 and in possession of the WBC title he first won while still a teenager.
Or maybe we should say, was in possession. Two years after having been stripped of his title following a positive drug test for cocaine, only to win it back last fall, Benavidez (22-0, 19 KOs) missed weight on Friday and lost his title on the scales ahead of Saturday’s Premier Boxing Champions tripleheader (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET).
Benavidez was nearly three pounds over the 168-pound limit, meaning only his opponent, hard-hitting Roamer Alexis Angulo (26-1, 22 KOs) will be eligible to win the title at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Benavidez also declined the additional hour provided by the commission to try and shed the weight to keep his title.
“I put the blame on myself, the last three pounds wouldn’t come off,” Benavidez said after stepping off the scales on the Showtime weigh-in live stream. “Maybe it was not having the proper things I needed [during the quarantine]. It was just a couple of different things and I’m obviously disappointed but I still have a job to do tomorrow.
“I’m definitely 100 times angrier coming into this fight. I don’t have my belt no more and the best I can come out of this fight is winning.”
Benavidez will still get to showcase his pressure stye and doesn’t plan on changing his approach anytime soon.
“I really don’t feel any pressure. I’m going to continue doing what I have been doing since I was 18,” Benavidez told CBS Sports’ “State of Combat” podcast earlier this week. “I feel like that’s why I have got to where I am at. I won the belt when I was 20 years’ old. I just go out there and do what I do. I’m an exciting fighter and the fans love me. My style brings out exciting fights. I don’t shy away from a fight. I’d rather bring the fight and make it a war.”
Benavidez rebounded in resounding fashion when a personal setback cost him the title the first time around by stopping division stalwart Anthony Dirrell to regain his crown.
Respect box? Subscribe to our podcast — State of Combat with Brian Campbell — where we take an in-depth look at the world of boxing each week, including a complete preview of Benavidez vs. Angulo with Rafe Bartholomew below.
A native of Phoenix, Benavidez was quick to point out that Angulo has a style that is nothing like the counterpunching and technical boxing style of Dirrell, which only raises the expectations for violence when they touch gloves this weekend.
Anuglo, a 36-year-old Colombian with a big right hand, is peaking at the right time in his career despite his age. Although his lone defeat came two years ago in a title loss by decision to Gilberto Ramirez, he has won two straight including an upset of unbeaten Anthony Sims Jr. in January.
“This fighter Angulo is more of a pressure type of fighter,” Benavidez said. “He likes to go forward and throw a lot of big shots. It will be a different kind of game that I’m playing this Saturday. I feel like my fights are exciting when the person I’m fighting comes forward and forward. I’ve seen that type of style a lot in my career and I’m used to it. I’m looking to have a great fight.”
No stranger to the highlight reel, Benavidez made plenty of them in a 2017 knockout of Rogelio “Porky” Medina that saw him finish the fight with a flurry of clean punches that nearly reached double digits as Medina fell under the bottom rope and was counted out.
“That was probably one of my favorite knockouts I ever had,” Benavidez said. “I watch it quite a lot and I feel like [Angulo] is kind of a replica of ‘Porky’ Medina. He’s the same type of fighter who comes forward and throws big shots. It could possibly be the same night. I’m looking to have a spectacular performance.”
Tall for the division at nearly 6-foot-2, Benavidez has given up his height often to fight on the inside. He claims he hasn’t done so to a reckless degree, however.
“If you look at my fights very closely, by the time the fights are done I don’t come out with black eyes, I don’t come out with cuts,” Benavidez said. “It’s fighting in the pocket but it’s being very careful with your defense, too. Just because I’m fighting on the inside a lot doesn’t mean I’m taking the shots and just coming forward. Just because it’s hitting on the gloves doesn’t mean it’s hitting on your face and I feel like that creates room for counter shots and more room for opportunity like body shots. If I’m in close to the pocket, it’s definitely going to be a short night for whomever I’m in there against.
Benavidez believes he “put the whole division on notice” with his stoppage of Dirrell via cuts and hasn’t hidden his disdain for or intention of seeking a unification bout against IBF champion Caleb Plant. Those plans will be delayed due to Benavidez missing weight.
“That’s the fight that we want to make happen as soon as possible,” Benavidez said. “I don’t like him, he doesn’t like me and I want his belt. That’s the fight I feel like has been cooking up and that’s the kind of fight that fans are excited about. That definitely has to happen as soon as possible. That’s the fight I want and the person I want to knock out. When we get in the ring, it’s going to get ugly. Trust me. I’m going to end up leaving with his belt.
“He thinks he’s better than me. It’s just the way that he is. It’s his persona. Sometimes there are just these two dudes that don’t like each other. I don’t like the way he is and acts. I don’t like how he thinks he’s better than everybody. He thinks he’s going to rule the division and I’m not going to let that happen. This is my division.”
Also featured on the card are a pair of heavyweights looking to get back in the spotlight when Otto Wallin takes on Travis Kauffman. Wallin famously battled WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury ahead of his rematch with Deontay Wilder and cut Fury’s eye open early in the bout. Many were worried that the cut was bad enough that the fight could be stopped and put the Wilder rematch in jeopardy. Fury survived, however, and went on to win a very gruesome, bloody decision. It’s the only loss of Wallin’s pro career.
Kauffman has been in some brawls in his career, but at 34, his best days are behind him. He’s lost two of his last three, including a TKO defeat at the hands of Luis Ortiz in his last bout in December 2018. He’s only fought four times since 2016.
Plus, one of Floyd Mayweather’s rising prospects is back when Rolando Romero takes on Jackson Marinez for the WBA interim lightweight title in the co-main event. Romero boasts incredible power with 10 knockouts in 11 career wins. Marinez is no slouch himself, however, as he boasts an undefeated record at 19-0, though a more technical fighter with just seven career knockouts.
Fight card, odds
David Benavidez -1200
Roamer Alexis Angulo +750
Rolando Romero -550
Jackson Marinez +400
WBA interim lightweight title
While Angulo is certainly the clear underdog due to his lack of speed and overwhelming craft, he has proven an ability to demand respect with the threat of his right hand and lower his opponent’s output because of it. Whether that will give Benavidez any pause likely will be decided when Angulo is forced to fight at close range where his opponent excels with short combinations.
The propensity for fireworks is big in this one and Benavidez’s pressure style does welcome the threat of getting caught, like he did when he was dropped in the final round of his first meeting with Ronald Gavril that ended via split decision. The difference, however, is the advantages in speed and technique that Benavidez will hold in the pocket, which allows him to stand closer to fire without getting burned.
As long as Benavidez maintains his poise and avoids an emotional reaction to missing weight, this is still a fight he should win.
Pick: Benavidez via TKO10
Who wins Benavidez vs. Angulo? Exactly how long does the fight last? Visit SportsLine now to see Peter Kahn’s best bet for Saturday, all from the fight game manager who’s 16-0 on boxing picks since the sport returned, and find out.
Recent Match Report – Delhi Capitals vs Kings XI Punjab 2nd Match 2020
Delhi Capitals 157 for 8 (Stoinis 53, Iyer 39, Pant 31, Shami 3-15, Cottrell 2-24) beat Kings XI Punjab 157 for 8 (Agarwal 89, Ashwin 2-2, Rabada 2-28, Stoinis 2-29) via the Super Over
Seam movement and bounce with the new ball. A 20-ball half-century that came out of nowhere. A two-wicket over ending with a nasty injury. A slow-burning, calculated rescue act that all but aced a tricky chase. A short run that wasn’t. Then, with one run required from three balls, somehow, Marcus Stoinis, who had also been the Capitals’ gamechanger with the bat, produced a dot and two wickets.
The second match of IPL 2020 contained pretty much everything, until an anticlimactic Super Over handed two points to the Delhi Capitals and heartbreak to the Kings XI Punjab, particularly to Mayank Agarwal whose 89 off 60 balls had rescued them from an abject 55 for 5 in their chase of 158.
Just as he was against the Kolkata Knight Riders last season, Kagiso Rabada was the Capitals’ Super Over hero. He took out KL Rahul with a well-directed bouncer, which following the batsman’s premeditated movement towards the leg side, and bowled Nicholas Pooran next ball. Pooran’s slog across the line wouldn’t have been cause for too much censure in the regular part of a T20 game, but it was an unwise shot off the third ball of a Super Over, in which teams are only allowed two wickets.
That left the Capitals just three runs to get, and they completed the job with no additions to the day’s quota of twists and turns.
A fast bowlers’ pitch
With only three venues hosting this tournament, the pitches will, at some point, slow down and offer plenty of assistance to the spinners. For now, though, they’re keeping the fast bowlers interested. Saturday’s surface in Abu Dhabi had a healthy covering of grass. Today’s pitch in Dubai was well-grassed too, and offered seam movement and plenty of bounce. Both teams filled two of their overseas slots with fast bowlers.
It was an Indian quick, however, who made the most of the early help. Delivering with his trademark upright seam, Mohammed Shami nipped the ball around, got it to spring off the pitch, and sent back Prithvi Shaw and Shimron Hetmyer in his second over. He had two catches dropped in his first over too, but one of them – Rahul putting Shikhar Dhawan down off a gloved hook – turned into a run-out.
A recovery, and an eye-catching debut
From 13 for 3 at the four-over mark, there was a bit of rebuilding to be done for the Capitals. Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant ensured they wouldn’t lose another wicket for another 10 overs, but the Capitals’ run rate remained in check. Staying below 6 an over even at the 12-over mark.
One of the main reasons for this was the performance of Ravi Bishnoi, the 20-year-old legspinner, who performed the difficult act of keeping Pant quiet despite being the left-hander’s obvious target to go after. He did this by slanting the ball across Pant from over the wicket, and almost exclusively bowling sliders and wrong’uns that veered away from his hitting arc. He exhibited impressive control over his lengths as well, and only conceded 13 runs to Pant off 12 balls, ending their skirmish by bowling him off the inside edge.
Iyer had a better time against his designated target, hitting the offspinner K Gowtham for three towering sixes. Ever since his India return late last year, Iyer has shown he’s become a ruthless hitter against spin, and this ability should come in handy for the Capitals right through this season.
Stoinis goes berserk
Just when Iyer was looking dangerous, Shami returned to the attack in the 15th over and dismissed him with a well-disguised knuckle ball. There were no boundaries in that over, or the next one from Bishnoi, or the one after that from Sheldon Cottrell. After 17 overs, the Capitals were 100 for 6 and looking at a total in the region of 130.
They ended up with 158, thanks to one of the most remarkable slog-overs efforts the IPL has ever seen. The bowling wasn’t great – Chris Jordan and Cottrell didn’t vary their pace all that much, and kept missing their length while going for yorkers, both wide and straight – but Stoinis’ hitting was magnificent. He took guard on off stump to get closer to the line if the bowlers went wide, and that also allowed him to put away straighter deliveries behind square on the leg side. From there, it was all still head and stable base, and the last three overs brought the Capitals 13, 14, and an eye-watering 30 runs respectively.
Stoinis ransacked 49 runs in the last three overs of the Capitals’ innings. Only Virat Kohli and Andre Russell have scored more in that part of an IPL innings.
Ashwin’s two-way impact
Just as in the first innings, the new ball did a bit in the second too. Kings XI expected this, and also had a not-particularly-steep target to chase, so their top order played out this phase with a little more caution than Shaw and Hetmyer in particular had done for the Capitals. Rahul muscled a Mohit Sharma free-hit for a monstrous leg-side six but was otherwise circumspect until he was bowled by an inducker from Sharma in the fifth over. Agarwal was even more circumspect: he was on 4 off 10 at the end of the fifth over.
Ashwin came on for the sixth over, and took a wicket with his first ever ball for the Capitals, against the team he captained last season; Karun Nair was the victim, falling to a top-edged sweep. Four balls later, Ashwin burst through Pooran’s defences with an arm ball from round the wicket. Kings XI were 34 for 3, and were looking at negotiating 19 more balls from Ashwin, but in an attempt to dive and save a single down the ground, he dislocated his left shoulder and left the field in what appeared to be intense pain.
Glenn Maxwell fell in the next over, miscuing Rabada to mid-off, but Kings XI had a bit of a lifeline. With Ashwin unable to bowl any further, targets could be found among their other five bowlers.
Agarwal comes agonisingly close
When Kings XI lost Sarfaraz Khan at the end of the 10th over, they needed 103 from their last 60 balls with only five wickets in hand. Agarwal at that point was batting on 13 off 20.
The boundaries began to arrive for him, but still in small, measured doses: a pulled six off Stoinis in the 11th over, two fast-hands slashes square on the off side off Anrich Nortje in the 13th. Amidst all this, the left-arm spinner Axar Patel kept him and Gowtham quiet, finding a bit of in-drift and getting the ball to skid towards the stumps.
With 74 needed off 36, Gowtham went after Sharma, picking his slower delivery and launching it over the long-on boundary before flat-batting a short one over mid-off for four. He fell in the next over, off Rabada, but Agarwal kept Kings XI in touch with the required rate with two more fours off Nortje in the 17th.
If Ashwin had been able to bowl, Sharma may not have had to finish his quota. As it happened, Sharma bowled the 18th and conceded two sixes to Agarwal, who was by now picking his spot and finding it ruthlessly, even if it meant carving full balls over point. Then, in the 19th over, Agarwal got the bit of luck that his innings deserved, Iyer putting down a chance running to his left from deep midwicket and giving away another four.
Twelve came off that Rabada over – it could have been 13 but for a tight but erroneous call of short run when Jordan turned for a second run – leaving the Capitals’ sixth bowler, Stoinis, to defend 12 off the last over. Agarwal smacked the first ball for six, high over long-off, and seemed to have the match all sewn up two balls later with a drive that beat long-off to his left.
That left one to get off three balls. A dot ball followed as Agarwal slashed at and missed a bouncer outside off. Stoinis brought all but one of his fielders into the 30-yard circle, and bowled a wide full-toss. Did he mean to? Who knows, but Agarwal picked out deep point, the only fielder on the boundary.
Then, with one to get off the last ball, Jordan flicked powerfully, but just within range of Rabada, who moved a step to his right at square leg to pull off a terrific reflex catch. There was no logical reason for the Capitals to still be alive in this match, but logic was taking a day off.
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