There are only three games left in the MLS Back Tournament. Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Orlando City SC and Minnesota United FC will compete in the semifinals to be played on Wednesday and Thursday.
It is an unexpected quartet. According to Caesars Sportsbook, none of the six pre-tournament favorites remain in the competition, and looking at the postseason pedigrees of these four clubs, it’s easy to understand the surprise: Orlando has never played in an MLS playoff game, Minnesota has never He won an MLS playoff game, and Philadelphia won a single playoff series in its decade of existence. In fact, the Timbers are the only semifinalists with a history of success in the league tie (Philadelphia and Minnesota were finalists in each of the last two Open Cups), having reached the MLS Cup in 2015 and 2018.
So how will these surprise teams fare? And who will go to the final on August 11?
Philadelphia Union vs. Portland Timbers | 5 de agosto, 8 p.m. ET
In five games in the MLS is Back tournament, Philadelphia has conceded just three goals. Such flashy numbers suggest a solid defense led by Mark McKenzie, and there is some truth to that, but Andre Blake has been something of an unrecognized hero in the Union race to the semifinals. He stopped six of the seven shots Sporting Kansas City made on goal in the quarterfinals, giving him 27 saves so far in the tournament, the most of any of the remaining four goalkeepers by a wide margin.
Philladelphia’s goals came from everywhere in the group stage, but Sergio Santos has scored three of his four goals in the knockout competition, taking some of the pressure off Kacper Przybylko and giving opponents another weapon of attack to keep in mind. bill.
Now that the group stage work is over, Portland has settled on a central defense couple in the knockout rounds (Dario Zuparic and Larrys Mabiala) who have calmed the frayed nerves of what often seemed to be a line of scary background with Bill Tuiloma inserted into it. In both wins over Cincinnati and NYCFC, Zuparic and Mabiala allowed 15 shots, while in the two games against Houston and LAFC in which Tuiloma teamed up with one of those centrals, the Timbers allowed 43. For a team whose only victory by a bigger margin than a single goal came in the quarterfinals, this represents progress.
Both teams have had a habit of scoring in Orlando, with Philadelphia scoring its first win by more than one goal in the quarterfinals, and there are striking similarities with how they have approached this tournament. But there is a noticeable difference: age. The average age of the Portland XI against the NYCFC was 28 years old (add Diego Valeri, who rested in the first half and climbs to 29), while the Philadelphia XI against the SKC averaged 25.6 years. When the two teams play their sixth game in less than four weeks, the Timbers’ legs will look quite heavy compared to a fairly new Philly team.
Portland has beaten Philadelphia in each of the last four times they have faced each other in league play, beating the Eastern Conference above 11-3 in the process, however, the FiveThirtyEight Soccer Power Index rated it gives the Timbers a 43% chance of reaching the final. You can bet the Union’s fresh legs will have something to do with it.
El Pick: Philadelphia
Orlando City SC v. Minnesota United FC | August 6, 8 pm ET (live broadcast on ESPN2)
Of the eight finalists in MLS is Back, none faced a greater chance of winning the tournament than Orlando at +1200. So not only is it a surprise that the Lions still stand, at least in the eyes of Las Vegas, but the fact that they beat LAFC, last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, makes it even more dramatic.
After sending Los Angeles to penalties, the only opponent Orlando could not beat in this tournament is his fellow semi-finalist Philadelphia, with whom he shared a 1-1 draw at the end of the group stage. In an improbable tournament at his own home, Orlando is making a very improbable race to the trophy.
What would a conversation about the black horse be like without Adrian Heath? The Minnesota coach has insisted that his team has been underestimated, but there are a handful of statistics that open a gap in that argument. The Loons are now the only undefeated team in MLS this season (regular season and MLS is Back), they have the best goal differential (+9) in this tournament, and with eight goals, they are three ahead of the next best team. FiveThirtyEight’s SPI also gives them a 54% chance to advance, so they no longer play the black knight card for the United boss.
Heath’s stories don’t end there, because this match is unofficially “Adrian Heath’s derby.” The former Everton player enjoyed more than five years in Orlando, managing the club with a pair of USL titles and three Commissioner Cups, twice winning the league coach of the year award and then guiding the team to the MLS before being unceremoniously relieved of his duties in 2016.
His return to Orlando for this tournament has been an unimaginable success, the kind of career that forces the rest of the league to sit down and take note of the Loons. A place in the final at the expense of his former former employers would be a lot sweeter for Heath.
El Pick: Minnesota