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Preview: Philly v. Portland, Orlando v. MNUFC in MLS is Back semis

MLS is Back

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - JULY 31: Nani #17 of Orlando City SC celebrating the game winning penalty kick during a game between Orlando City SC and Los Angeles FC at ESPN Wide World of Sports on July 31, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

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Just as everyone no one expected, the Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Orlando City SC and Minnesota United are the four teams still standing at the MLS is Back tournament, with the semifinals set to kick off Wednesday night.

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Philadelphia Union - Portland Timbers

Wednesday, 8 pm ET, FS1

How they got here

Philadelphia: Finished 2nd (7 points) in Group A, beat New England in R16, beat Sporting KC in QF
Portland: Finished 1st (7 points) in Group F, beat Cincinnati in R16, beat NYCFC in QF

Goalkeeper Andre Blake has been one of, if not the, brightest stars at the MLS is Back tournament, and while he’s not singlehandedly responsible for Jim Curtin’s side reaching the semis, he’s certainly had player the largest singular role of anyone in the league. Per, Blake has effectively wiped away 1 goal per game over the course of five games. Sure, that’s a pretty small sample size, but we have years of examples of Blake making superhuman saves between the sticks, and yet he’s gone to an entirely different level this month. The other (continued) breakout star for Philadelphia is 19-year-old — and soon-to-be Europe-bound — midfielder Brenden Aaronson, who torched Sporting KC with perhaps the Assist of the Tournament in the quarterfinals after previously tallying two more assists in the group stage.

As for Portland, it’s all about defensive solidity for Giovanni Savarese’s side. The only team to score multiple goals against them at the MLS is Back tournament was Los Angeles FC, in the final group game. They’re still a mostly counter-attacking team as in previous seasons under Savarese, which will require the Union to push numbers forward and open themselves up to the counter — something they’re naturally inclined to do based on evidence of the tournament thus far.

Prediction: Philadelphia 1-2 Portland

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Orlando City SC - Minnesota United

Thursday, 8 pm ET, ESPN2

How they got here

Orlando: Finished 1st in Group A, beat Montreal in R16, beat LAFC in QF
Minnesota: Finished 2nd in Group D, beat Columbus in R16, beat San Jose in QF

Whether or not there are more games played in 2020 following the MLS is Back tournament, Oscar Pareja has to have already locked up the Coach of the Year award, right? Orlando have been a downright embarrassment for five seasons in MLS, then Pareja walks through the door and by his third competitive game in charge, they look like one of the most complete and well-oiled teams in the league. It’s not supposed to be like this, Orlando aren’t supposed to be good competent. The Lions have struck a perfect balance between maintaining a solid defensive shape and playing some expansive, beautiful soccer. That’s the dream for every team in the world, isn’t it? But the fact it’s happening in — and by the team from — Orlando, Fla.? Still doesn’t sit right.

Speaking of teams with a chameleon identity this summer, Minnesota United have logged just about every kind of result imaginable at this tournament. Grind-it-out 0-0 draw? Check. Dramatic, come-from-behind victory with two goals in stoppage time? Check. Surviving a penalty shootout after arguably their worst performance of the tournament? Check. Completely overwhelming and suffocating one of the tournament’s standout sides? Check. Adrian Heath’s side has typically been known for defending and timely set-piece acuity, but their total destruction of the San Jose Earthquakes in the quarterfinals was arguably the most impressive performance and result we’ve seen in Orlando.

Prediction: Orlando 0-1 Minnesota

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