After some penalty shootouts and weird nights of soccer, MLS is Back is through the round of 16. The quarterfinals of the bubble tournament in Orlando start on Thursday. Here’s a quick look at each of the four games.
Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting KC (July 30th, 8pm EST)
Philly, a young team with big aspirations, skirted past the New England Revolution in the round of 16, winning 1-0. They’ve mostly survived on the back of Andre Blake, their red-hot goalkeeper who has been in top form for this entire tournament. The attack has yet to reach its potential. It will be up to Brendan Aaronson to get on the ball more frequently and strikers Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos to penetrate SKC’s backline. The Union are mobile and organized, making them a tough matchup for anyone.
This game will be much different for Sporting KC than their round of 16 clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps. In that match, SKC controlled 62 percent of possession and attempted a ridiculous 37 shots, failing to score a single one thanks to the efforts of Vancouver reserve goalkeeper Thomas Hasal. Sporting ended up surviving on PKs.
They won’t have such an easy time controlling the ball this time around. Expect a tight, low-scoring game. (Or, because this is MLS, expect the opposite and go with a 4-3 barburner.) If it goes to pens, SKC have the advantage with goalkeeper Tim Melia, the best PK stopper in league history.
Orlando City SC vs. LAFC (Friday, July 31st, 7:30pm EST)
With Oscar Pareja at the helm, Orlando have been one of the league’s best in this tournament. They picked up seven of a possible nine points in the group stage and defeated the Montreal Impact in their first knockout game. OCSC have high-caliber attackers in Nani and Chris Mueller and a threatening possessions system. In these tightly-played knockout games, being able to pass the ball is a major asset.
LAFC is a pretty tough matchup for Orlando, however. Bob Bradley’s team pressed the Seattle Sounders’ midfield into oblivion and forced constant mistakes from the Sounders’ defenders. The front three of Diego Rossi, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Brian Rodriguez have been impossible to stop thus far. LA will cause problems for Orlando and force them to keep pace on the scoresheet.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Minnesota United (Saturday, Aug 1st, 8pm EST)
Minnesota entered their match against favorites Columbus with an effective game plan. They set up a deeper defensive line and used their midfield (particularly Hassani Dotson) to limit the influence of Darlington Nagbe and Artur. Thanks to an 18th-minute Robin Lod goal and a five-for-five PK round, they eliminated the Crew.
They won’t have much of an easier time against San Jose, a man-marking marvel that has been pouring in goals over their past three games. They’ve kept well over 60 percent possession in wins over Vancouver, Chicago, and Real Salt Lake, scoring a total of 11 goals in those games. They know how to generate chaos and break down your lines. Chris Wondolowski is scrounging up goals as a super-sub.
Prediction: San Jose
NYCFC vs Portland Timbers (Saturday, Aug 1st, 10:30pm EST)
NYCFC found their form in a win over Toronto FC, scoring in the first five minutes and finishing with a satisfying 3-1 win. They had been muddling along prior to that. The health of Maxi Moralez and Heber — NYC’s two best players, who both came off the bench against TFC — will be important.
It will be interesting to see how Portland approaches this game. If they try to take control and push NYC back, I imagine NYC will be willing to take up a low line of confrontation, as they were able to do for most of the Toronto game. The Timbers could also try to generate counter-attacks for Sebastian Blanco and Yimmi Chara. One potential difference-maker: Portland’s strikers, Jeremy Ebobisse and Jaroslaw Niezgoda, have come through in big moments.