Orlando City is two wins away from its first trophy in the club’s MLS history
By Official Florida FC
More than one broadcaster has noted this year’s MLS is Back tournament has placed the U.S. Open Cup amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The best evidence of that may be the identity of the four teams that will play in the tournament semifinals. Orlando City, Minnesota United and the Portland Timbers were all semifinalists in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup.
That trio, as well as the Philadelphia Union are competing for a trophy, more than $1 million in prize money and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Here is a preview of the tournament semifinals.
ORLANDO CITY VS. MINNESOTA UNITED, Aug. 6
The second semifinal is far more intriguing contest. It pits Adrian Heath’s former club against his current one.
Heath managed Orlando City when the club valuted from USL Pro to Major League Soccer in 2015. Orlando City fired him in June 2016. Heath landed in Minneapolis to help the Loons in their transition from the NASL to MLS.
Interestingly enough, what spelled the end of Heath’s tenure in Orlando — organizing a defense — has been one of Minnesota United’s strengths over the last two seasons.
The Loons conceded goals for fun during their first two seasons. But, the arrival of Ike Opara in central defense, Ozzie Alonso at the base of midfield and Vito Mannone in goal prior to the 2019 season changed the fortunes of the club. Oparra was named MLS Defender of the Year for a second time; but, opted out of the MLS is Back tournament.
Michael Boxall and Jose Aja have marshaled a defense that has produced only one clean sheet in five MLS is Back matches.
Minnesota United is conceding goals; but, the Loons are not allowing opponents to create a host of clear-cut scoring opportunities. Both goals the Loons have allowed in the knockout round have come from the penalty spot.
Meanwhile, Orlando has been wasteful in front of goal at times in MLS is Back.
The Lions beat Los Angeles FC in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals; but, Orlando City could not convert a 55th minute penalty kick, did not conjure a clean-cut shot on goal during a five-minute stretch where they were clearly the superior side and waited until the 90th minute to score against a LAFC side that was far from its best.
Orlando is winless in three league meetings against Minnnesota United. Then again, the Lions had yet to beat LAFC before Friday night.
PHILDELPHIA UNION VS. PORTLAND TIMBERS, Aug. 5
Portland leads all-time series 6-1-3
Philadelphia has won one of its 10 all-time matches against the Portland Timbers. That lone victory was five years ago. Then and now Ray Gaddis was the Union’s starting right back and the team was coached by Jim Curtin. Outside of that, these are two transformed sides.
Union No. 10 Brenden Aaronson is playing his way into a European contract. The 19-year-old has been the team’s lynchpin through five games. His assist for Philadelphia’s third goal in its 3-1 demolition of Sporting Kansas City showed the vision that has made the Union an intriguing team throughout the MLS is Back Tournament.
Portland has hidden in plain sight all tournament long. The Timbers have played tidy soccer and capitalized on their opponent’s mistakes. That was the case in wins over the L.A. Galaxy and Houston Dynamo as well in Saturday’s quarterfinal win over NYCFC.
Sebastian Blanco (two goals, four assists) has been a match-winner as a No. 10 and the combination of Eryk Williamson and Diego Chara have been a tenacious twosome in central midfield.
Both clubs have dynamic super subs who can change the game in limited minutes. Ilsinho has appeared in all five matches in MLS is Back, playing no more than 45 minutes in any appearance. Portland’s Diego Valeri has made more of an impact off the bench for the Timbers. The former MLS MVP scored the Timbers’ game-winning goal against NYCFC. The 34-year-old has appeared in all five games, with two goals and an assist in 324 minutes over five appearances.