The MLS is Back Tournament is reaching its conclusion in the Orlando bubble. Despite the absence of FC Dallas and Nashville SC due to positive COVID-19 cases, the tournament has progressed smoothly. Last night, the Portland Timbers defeated the Philadelphia Union in the first semifinal match 2-0 to punch their ticket to the finals.
The other semifinal matchup, Minnesota United vs Orlando City will take place Thursday night. Minnesota United is no stranger to deep runs in competitions as last year, they made it all the way to the U.S. Open Cup Final where they lost 2-1 to Atlanta United. The other two semifinal clubs were Portland and Orlando City.
Minnesota rode clutch penalty kick conversions and an explosive attack to the semifinals. In the round of 16, they defeated the Columbus Crew 1-1 (5-3) in penalty kicks. They had a much easier time in the quarterfinals as they blitzed the San Jose Earthquakes for four goals in a 4-1 victory despite having only 35% possession.
As for Orlando City, their appearance in this match is more unexpected. They defeated the Montreal Impact 1-0 in the round of 16 before taking on the defending President’s Trophy winners in LAFC. They trailed 1-0 until the 90th minute that saw Joao Moutinho tap in a header to send the match to PKs. Orlando would win 5-4 and advance to the semifinals.
When it comes down to this match, there are two very important aspects to watch out for: can Orlando City keep up their fine run of form on defense and can Minnesota possess the ball enough.
Orlando’s defense has been phenomenal this tournament at keeping explosive attacks out of the net. NYCFC, Philadelphia Union and LAFC are elite clubs in the MLS with playmakers and solid goal scorers on their rosters. Combined, these clubs have combined to score three goals on Orlando (one each). Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, the starting goalkeeper for the Peruvian National Team, made four saves against LAFC against a relentless attack. Gallese and the defense will need to have another stout performance if they are to defeat Minnesota.
As for Minnesota, in their two wins in the knockout round, they thoroughly lost the possession battle. In both matches, they lost the possession battle 65-35%. While their attack and defense were more than enough to win both matches, it is not a recipe for success. Goalkeeper Tyler Miller made incredible saves against Columbus to keep them in position to win. However, Orlando has proven to be very opportunistic and relentless defensively and losing the possession battle that badly could prove to be fatal toward their chances. Without 2019 MLS Defender of the Year in Ike Opara, they are not as formidable at the backline as we are accustomed to.
This match will be determined by the possession battle and which goalkeeper will make the clutch save of the match. I think that both clubs will score a goal each and the match will go to PKs where Minnesota will survive. They will head to the finals and face the Timbers, the club they beat in the Cup Open semifinals last year.