The MLS Is Back Tournament: Semi-Final Preview

Earlier in the year, I wrote about how the MLS Is Back Tournament got off to a rough start. Nashville dropped out in their debut season, joining FC Dallas on the sidelines. People complained about the superimposed Adidas logo. Injuries were constant. However, the tournament has more than recovered and has been very popular, although injuries have been an issue. It’s already the semi-final of the tournament now, so here are my analysis and predictions for the semi-finals.

Orlando City vs. Minnesota United

Orlando and Minnesota have both been surprisingly good. In the 2019 MLS season, Orlando finished second-to-last in the Eastern Conference. Minnesota did well in 2019, finishing fourth in the conference before losing in Round 1 of the playoffs. Still, Minnesota coach Adrian Heath has maintained his belief that Minnesota are underdogs, and they’ve performed well with that title.

Orlando are undefeated, with group stage wins over Inter Miami and a draw with Philadelphia. They beat Thierry Henry’s Montreal Impact 1-0 in the Round of 16 and beat LAFC on penalty kicks to advance to the semis. A key player for the Lions is former Manchester United star Luis Nani, who scored the winning goal in the opener against Inter Miami, and has assisted for three other goals. The team has great depth, as winger Chris Mueller has scored three goals and goalkeeper Pedro Gallese has been important in goal.

Minnesota were founded more recently than any other team in the semis, debuting in 2017. The Loons endured a miserable first season which included 5-1 and 6-1 losses, but have improved significantly. Minnesota are also undefeated in the tournament, winning one and tying two in the group stage. They were matched up against favorites Columbus Crew in the Round of 16, and won in penalty kicks to advance to the quarter-finals. They played San Jose in a statistically close game, but the final score did not reflect that as Minnesota won 4-1.

The tournament is in Orlando, and the Lions will be hungry for success to show rivals Inter Miami who owns the MLS. My prediction: Orlando will win 2-1, with goals from Tesho Akindele and Luis Nani as Orlando reach the final of the MLS Is Back Tournament.

Philadelphia Union vs. Portland Timbers

I’m a little bit biased, but the Philadelphia Union have easily looked like the best team this tournament. They beat New York City FC and Inter Miami, tied Orlando City, squeaked by a solid New England team, and destroyed Sporting Kansas City, who are a very good team.

However, Portland have been a very good team as well. Captain Diego Valeri has been clutch, scoring the winning goal against Houston as well as a quarter-final goal against NYCFC. The Timbers have not been solely reliant on Valeri, as they have a plethora of goal scorers. A huge part of this is Jeremy Ebobisse, who was born in France, but represents the US Senior team. Ebobisse has scored three goals, one in every group stage game, to help the Timbers advance to the knockouts. He has not scored in the knockouts, but Portland have enough options that they have still been fine without Ebobisse’s goals.

As previously mentioned, the Union have looked great this whole tournament. Brenden Aaronson has teams all over Europe interested with his dazzling performances, speedy striker Sergio Santos has been great on counter attacks that led to a brace against KC, and Andre Blake has recovered from his poor performances in the 2019 MLS playoffs. Set pieces have been the Union’s weak link, as Sporting KC’s Alan Pulido nearly grabbed one back from a free kick, hitting the post. Pulido did score earlier in the game off of a cross very much like a free kick, as Johnny Russell had so much time and space to hook the ball into the box. If a team are to beat the Union, set pieces will most likely be key, as that’s how the New York Red Bulls got a big, early lead against the Union in the 2019 playoffs.

My prediction: The final will be a rematch of the Group A game, Union vs Orlando City. The Union are the better team, and the counter-attacking style of the Union proved hugely effective against Sporting KC. Philadelphia will win 3-1, with Santos scoring another brace and Aaronson scoring once more.

The Philadelphia-Portland match is on August 5, and the Orlando-Minnesota game is on August 6. The winner of these games will go on to play the final on August 11. Who are you rooting for?

Image courtesy of andywitchger / CC BY.

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