MLS is Back preview: Who wins in the Portland - Orlando matchup?
August 11, 2020
THE FINAL OF the MLS IS BACK tournament will take place tonight in a matchup between the Portland Timbers and Orlando City SC. Entering into the tournament, no one predicted this would be the final but now looking back on this in hindsight, it is easy to see why both teams have advanced this far.
Both of these teams have been fairly steady and haven’t really had many weaknesses to exploit. Both teams have also been very well coached and have come up with goals when the situation has called for one.
So here are few thoughts of mine to preview the game tonight and, for lack of better judgement, I’ll predict a winner.
Outlook for Orlando
Orlando has been the surprise of this tournament and heading into tonight, Nani has been the tournament’s MVP and he has been a high-level impact designated player even going through last season.
American winger Chris Mueller was playing very impressive soccer in the group stages but has cooled, while also dealing with a shoulder injury. While his goals and assists have gone down he is still effective and has been completing a huge percentage of his passes. Mueller’s presence on the field has helped to stretch defenses and help open the game.
Former first overall draft pick Joao Moutinho has been one of the breakout players in this tournament as the left back has been impressive on both sides of the ball. His overlapping runs on Nani’s side of the ball have also helped make Orlando even more of a very dangerous team from out wide.
Most of all, this tournament has shown that new head coach Oscar Pareja now finally has this team relevant in the league. Orlando has badly wanted to be among the best in the league and it made big signings such as Kaka to try to make that point. Then moving into a new stadium, the team still struggled.
But Pareja now has an system that fits the players and it is obvious from watching that the players are buying into it all. The players are playing roles that make sense and the soccer has been attractive to watch. Mueller and Nani have both scored some of the more impressive goals at the tournament and Orlando has tried to take the game to each of its opponents.
But combined with steady defense that has also found of ways of containing strong teams like LAFC and Philadelphia, Orlando is going to be a tough team to score on and a tough team to stop from scoring.
Outlook for Portland
Portland is a team that is built for tournaments and having the ability to frustrate opponents in these types of settings. Even when Portland struggles in the regular season, it seems to play better in the playoffs.
This Portland team is even better than in recent years and it actually contains a nice mixture of youth to go along with its experienced veterans.
This goal from Andy Polo last night…????????????????pic.twitter.com/c2jCuqCwzk— The Peruvian Waltz (@PeruWaltz) August 2, 2020
What is particularly interesting about this Portland team is that the organization has had a long-standing negative perception of playing young domestic players. That existed prior to the tenure of Gio Savarese as manager and it continued once Savarese took over. But so far, this tournament has seen Portland’s success been aided by forward Jeremy Ebobisse and midfielder Eryk Williamson. Ebobisse, in particular, is a great story because despite Portland’s tendency to always want to replace him, he has consistently emerged as a better option.
Portland as a lot of ways to score and it has key players who know the league in side and out. Diego Chara is one of the best defensive midfielders in the history of the league. Diego Valeri has been so good for so long. Sebastian Blanco has been one of the best and most opportunistic goal scorers in the league.
When you combine that up, it is easy to see why Portland belongs in the final.
This is a tough game to predict and the fact that this tournament has been intensely fought, that seems to favor Portland. The combination of experience of succeeding in this league along with the hungrier introduction of young players give Portland the edge.
Orlando can win this but Nani will have to overcome being the focus of Portland’s defense. Mueller or others will have to also become a threat.
Goalkeeping will also be an issue. Portland’s Steve Clark can make big saves but can also make big errors. If Clark is focused and on his game, Portland’s chances increase even more.
With all that said, my prediction is a narrow 2-1 win for the Timbers.