eMLS Tournament Special Episode 3: What to watch for in virtual New York, Texas derbies

eMLS - 2020 - Tournament Special - May 3

The eMLS Tournament Special presented by Coca-Cola and PlayStation is back this Sunday (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN), with two enticing derby matches that will help to decide which team will join LAFC and Sporting Kansas City in the semifinals of this five-week FIFA 20 tournament to support hunger relief efforts.

First up, the always-entertaining Hudson River Derby moves to the console, with New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls facing off. Each MLS team is represented by one MLS player and their eMLS pro gamer. Two familiar faces in Aaron Long and Sean Johnson will face off in the first leg, followed by two of eMLS's top performers so far in 2020. The team with the highest aggregate score from the two games will move on, with a golden goal tiebreaker (first to score wins) between the two MLS players taking place if necessary.

The second match of the day sees the scene shift to the Texas Derby, where FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo meet. Dallas will be repped by Fafa Picault on the player side and faces Houston local Memo Rodriguez. The player matchup will also feature a former eMLS Cup winner and a newcomer looking to make is name. The winners of the two series will face off in one final game, effectively the quarterfinal of the game, to determine who moves on to the tournament's final four, which 

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MLS matchups

The MLS player side, as always, remains a bit of a mystery, but we got a small hint — or maybe just some mind games — in an interview with Long this week. The Red Bulls center back told MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert this week that he's in the Fortnite group on US national team trips, not the FIFA group that includes Johnson.

“Yeah, I’m the underdog — times five,” he said of his upcoming FIFA 20 match, and noted of his opponent, “he rooms with Sebastian Lletget, who brings his PS4 with him wherever he goes. In our last USMNT game of the year, we won, but Sean and Sebastian stayed up until like 5 am playing FIFA all night.”

Will those marathon FIFA sessions pay off for SeanJohn or is Long sowing the seeds of an upset on Sunday? This matchup has a great chance of being decisive in the overall series, given that we should see a very closely-matched second leg between the eMLS players.

The Fafa Picault-Memo Rodriguez matchup remains more of a mystery. Picault is certainly known in MLS circles for his quickness and head-turning ability on the field, and we can only wait and see if that translates to competitive FIFA 20, where skill moves are paramount and mastery of them could prove the difference in these MLS player showdowns. Picault faces an opponent in Rodriguez who, as a Dynamo Homegrown, knows that every derby match matters and will be eager to turn Texas orange even while MLS is on hiatus.

eMLS matchups

Unlike the MLS player side, we have plenty of recent eMLS results and tape from these players. That tells us it should be a pretty tight match between the two New York players, who actually met in the semifinals of League Series One back in January. Adamou took the bragging rights that time, take a narrow 1-0 victory (itself revenge for a 3-2 loss in the group stage).

Still, NYCFC's Didychrislito remains one of the most competitive eMLS players on the scene and has racked up some impressive wins, including last year's eChampions League. An eMLS title remains elusive though, and one of the key points to watch on Sunday will be how he adapts to the all-MLS rosters being used in this tournament, which differs from eMLS and most other tournaments around the world that partly or wholly use FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) rules allowing you to use any player in the game for your team.

Things are a little more clear-cut down in Texas, but there's still room for a surprise. Houston's Kid M3mito was the early sensation in eMLS, taking home the inaugural eMLS Cup in 2018 and reaching the final of League Series One the following year. He hasn't hit the same heights since, and after 16th- and 12th-place finishes in the two League Series events in 2020, he will have to qualify for eMLS Cup through the Last Chance Bracket if he hopes to avoid being shut out of a knockout stage appearance entirely this year.

Still, the Dynamo player should be the favorite against Dallas' i9ibbs, a newcomer to the eMLS scene in 2020. The Dallas man finished 23rd in League Series One, picking up seven points from his 12 games and dropping a 3-1 group-stage decision against his Texas rival. He improved slightly in League Series Two, picking up four more points to finish 19th, but still faces an uphill road in Sunday's competition.

As we've noted, though, the eMLS player side is only half the equation, and these FIFA 20 pros will be helped or hindered by their MLS teammates' performance in the first leg of these series — tune in Sunday to see how it all shakes out.