MLS is Back Tournament Final: Can Orlando City win its first trophy?
Orlando City won the first match of the MLS is Back Tournament. Now they have a chance to win the last match.
To do so in the MLS is Back Final on Tuesday, the Lions will need to take down a Portland Timbers side that, like Orlando City, has yet to taste defeat in the tournament.
These squads had long odds to win the tournament when it began, because they struggled mightily in the two weeks before the season was put on hold by COVID-19. Now they are in terrific form, with a combined 23 goals scored in the tournament over 12 contests.
MLS is Back Tournament Final, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
|Portland Timbers||Draw||Orlando City|
How we got here
Orlando City defeated favorite Los Angeles FC in the quarterfinals via penalty shootout, thanks to a very late goal from Joao Moutinho to level things at 1-1. On Thursday night, the club defeated Minnesota United, 3-1, even though it was outshot, 17-7, in the match and took only three corners to Minnesota’s 13.
Portland defeated New York City FC, 3-1, in the quarterfinals, then held on against Philadelphia, 2-1, Wednesday night in the semifinal round. The Timbers held possession for just 38% of the match against the Union and conceded a goal with five minutes left to play.
Nani is in top form...
Orlando City’s biggest name has been its brightest star in the tournament. Nani buried his penalty against LAFC in the shootout, and then scored two goals in a seven-minute span in the first half against Minnesota to his club in front.
At 33, he is showing flashes of the talent that he displayed for years at Manchester United, and proved he can still cut in off the wing and hit a world-class curler into the far post. Through six matches, he has three goals and has set up three others, so he has played a role in more than half of Orlando’s 11 goals.
...but Blanco is scorching hot
Meanwhile, Sebastian Blanco continues to play very well for Portland. If he isn’t scoring the goals, he is setting them up. He has scored a goal in the club's last two outings and has three goals in the six matches since he arrived in Orlando.
Blanco also recorded an assist in each of the first five matches of the tournament. Of the 12 goals scored in this competition by the Timbers, the midfielder has had a hand in eight. It’s safe to say he will play a role in the outcome of this contest.
How should you bet?
While both offenses have played well, it’s Orlando City’s defense that will likely be the difference. In their three knockout-stage matches, the Lions have conceded just two goals. They have one clean sheet in the tournament, and have yet to allow an opposing team to score more than once.
The Timbers, on the other hand, have yet to keep a clean sheet in the tournament, and conceded two goals to the same LAFC team that Orlando City held to one.
The one thing these two squads have in common is their ability to find the back of the net. They have yet to be held scoreless in any of their matches. However, both teams have had to rely on a pair of players to carry much of that offensive load. With both looking to limit the damage, it might come down to someone else to help out for once.
In the past five years, Portland has played in two MLS Cups. It won in 2015 and fell short in 2018. The Timbers have the experience in big matches, but Orlando has a hunger for its first piece of MLS hardware.
I foresee a defensive, methodical showdown in this matchup, and Orlando City will do just enough to take home the trophy and book its place in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.