By: Matt Watkins
MLS is Back Tournament Odds—Semifinal Matches
Just when you think you have this tournament and its opponents figured out, there’s a left turn and we get a set of final four clubs that, while maybe not a huge surprise (save for one), pretty much no one expected as the last ones standing for the title.
With three matches remaining, this is as wide open a field as you can get and the betting lines reflect the parity between the squads.
MLS is Back Tournament Odds—Semifinal Match No. 1
(Note: All times listed are EST)
Philadelphia Union vs. Portland Timbers – Wednesday, August 5, 8:00 p.m.
Line: Philadelphia +170, Portland +150
The match against Sporting KC was exactly why some people said Philadelphia was a team to keep an eye on during this tournament. The 15 minute stretch in the first half where it scored all of its goals was poetry to watch (well, unless you live in Western Missouri). They held up under adversity after conceding a stoppage time goal at the end of the first frame and withstood a deluge in the first 10 minutes of the second stanza from Sporting.
The key to the match was Brendan Aaronson. If you’ve watched any of the tournament, you’ve heard the commentators, regardless of network, rave about his ability, how the Union needs to move players like Aaronson and Mark McKenzie on to European clubs in order to validate the investment that ownership has made on the development side. Honestly though, having watched my fair share of Philly matches, both last year and in this tournament, I just hadn’t seen it.
In the quarterfinal match, we saw it. Maybe Jim Curtain got in his ear and said “you’re not the name YET that can get every call from falling down, play your game and earn it.” Maybe he decided he needed to make a bigger impact on his own. Maybe it was the KC defense that allowed him to connect so well with Sergio Santos. Whatever it was, his play made the difference for Philadelphia and propelled the team into the semis.
MLS is Back Tournament Odds—How Did Portland Get Here
Portland looked equally as strong in its semifinal match against NYCFC. Unlike Philadelphia who built its lead early, the Timbers held steady before a defensive lapse (even an eight year old knows not to try to clear the ball in front of his own net, so why the Cityzens thought it would work is beyond comprehension) allowed them to tie the match before half.
Second half subs helped to put the contest away. One of the biggest takeaways from the match is the reminder of how tactically sound you need to be against a team as complete as Portland. Two of the three goals came completely against the run of play with the giveaway in the box and a counterattack.
One point of concern for the Timbers is the turnaround time. Philadelphia played the first of the quarterfinal matches on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. Portland played the last on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. The Timbers have a much older overall lineup than the Union. How does having 48 hours less recovery time affect players like Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and Diego Chara, all of whom are on the wrong side of 32?
Chara and Valeri are club legends who have ties to the 2013 MLS Cup championship team, but does age play a toll, especially the in heat and humidity of Orlando much greater than what they experience at home?
Competition History: Portland has owned the series history, going 6-1-3 against the Union. Valeri has had some of his best moments coming off the bench against Philadelphia with a goal and an assist in each of his last two matches against the club.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Prediction: Match No. 1: Philadelphia 2, Portland 1. Philadelphia hit its stride against KC. Even with Kacper Przyzbelko still not on his game, the way that Aaronson and Santos connected and Jose Martinez played coming up to keep the diamond in the midfield, the offense should be able to get its shots off. The goals the Timbers scored against NYCFC likely don’t go in against Philly.
The Union is much more likely to hold steady on the back line and not give things away, nor is a more athletic keeper like Andre Blake likely to surrender a goal on, what I will absolutely grant was an absolute howler, a shot from 25 yards out. Neither team winning would be a surprise, but we’re going with the younger, fresher, and arguably hungrier Union squad to advance.
Confidence level: 6/10.
MLS is Back Tournament Odds: Semifinal Match No. 2
Orlando City vs. Minnesota FC – Thursday, July 31, 7:30 p.m.
Line: Orlando City +150, Minnesota +175
Ok, we get it now. Orlando is a legit threat in MLS. Could it be argued that LAFC didn’t take the Lions seriously enough or counted the match as over on the last minute corner that allowed the Lions to draw even? Yes. Did Bob Bradley mismanage his subs in the quarterfinals? Probably. But Orlando City still needed to uphold its end of the deal and it did.
The defense was outstanding against LAFC and the offense got its chances before winning in penalties. The Lions have been the most impressive team in this tournament, both overall, as well as from an exceeding expectation standpoint. Mauricio Pereyra has been one of the top players in the tournament and has allowed Nani to play more a facilitating role with his creative brilliance.
Orlando City still needs to finish better though as it has created chances better than any team, but has still mustered just one goal each in its last three matches. It’s been enough to see the team through to the semis, but the Lions will need to convert some of those opportunities in the semis if they want to advance.
MLS is Back Tournament Odds—How Did Minnesota Get Here?
Minnesota, meanwhile, has been pretty much exactly as advertised. The Loons can win in multiple ways, as we’ve seen in their two knockout stage matches. They can play a tight defensive battle and grind out a draw to force PK (as they did against Columbus) or they can methodically carve your defense and find ways to get the ball in the back of the net (as they did against San Jose).
All that said, the biggest concern is who is not there for Minnesota. Can the run continue without Ike Opara (out for the tournament), Kevin Molino (hurt against Real Salt Lake), and Romain Metanire (banged up against Columbus)? The logical answer is no, but this tournament has defied logic to this point.
Match/Competition History: MNU holds a 2-0-1 series advantage against Orlando City with both teams being relatively new to MLS. There is one common link and that is the head coach of Minnesota, Adrian Heath. He guided Orlando City to a pair of USL titles before it moved up to MLS and then was sacked 18 months into its stay at the highest tier. He has led the Loons since 2017 and helped oversee their ascendance.
MLS is Back Tournament Prediction: Semifinal Match No. 2: Orlando City 2, Minnesota FC 1. This is where Minnesota’s injuries just become too much to overcome. Even at full power, the Loons are probably still a step away from hoisting any trophy.
Orlando City will lock down on defense and what few shots do get through will be handled, mostly comfortably, in net by Pedro Gallese. Most importantly, Orlando City has played tough matches throughout and is battle tested when it comes to late-game situations.
Confidence level: 6/10.