eMLS Tournament Special preview & prediction: LAFC, Sporting KC, NYCFC and Atlanta fight for the title

eMLS - 2020 - Tournament Special - May 17

After eight hard-fought hours of FIFA 20, we're ready to find out which MLS team will take home bragging rights in the eMLS Tournament Special presented by Coca-Cola and PlayStation. The final episode of this 16-team tournament to support hunger relief airs this Sunday evening (6 pm | FS1, TSN2) and features four of the best FIFA 20 players from MLS rosters, paired up with four of the top FIFA 20 eMLS pros in the world.

Each pair of eMLS and MLS players have been representing their team, with LAFC (Adama DiomandeRemiMartinn), Sporting Kansas City (Wan Kuzain and Alekzandur), New York City FC (Sean Johnson & Didychrislito), and Atlanta United (Franco Escobar & Paulo Neto) emerging from the first four episodes to claim a berth in the championship episode (full results).

Just as in all previous episodes, matchups will consist of two legs: the first played between each team's MLS players and the second between their eMLS pros. The team with the highest aggregate score over the two games will win the series, with the two MLS players playing a golden goal tiebreaker (first to score wins) if the teams finish level after 180 in-game minutes.

You can find a preview of the matchups below, with information on both MLS players and eMLS players, how the matchups might go now that we've seen everyone play, and, of course, the pick to win it all.

LAFC vs. Sporting KC

MLS: Adama Diomande vs. Wan Kuzain

Things will kick off with the heavyweight matchup between two of the most talented FIFA 20 players in the MLS ranks. Diomande set the bar high when he dominated Chicago's Francisco Calvo in their quarterfinal matchup, but Wan Kuzain may have one-upped him with a truly masterful performance across two games the following weekend.

Wan Kuzain would seem to be the slight favorite here — his dominant showing in his side of the bracket is the result of years of experience in the FIFA series. In an interview last month with MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert, he noted that he has been an avid FIFA player since middle-school age, logging plenty of game time throughout the various editions of the franchise.

The experience shows. Wan Kuzain's quick passing play and mastery of skill moves indicate a player familiar with the advanced facets of the game, ones which pro gamers regularly utilize. Diomande has shown he is no slouch either, and his 1-0 win over Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was probably a flattering scoreline for the Mexican star, while Diomande's 4-0 demolition of Calvo in the following round was probably more indicative of his level. 

eMLS: RemiMartinn vs. Alekzandur

This is where things might get a little trickier for Sporting KC. Alekzandur faired well enough in his matchups against eMLS pros from Minnesota and D.C. in his side of the bracket, but the level ups significantly here. The SKC gamer — a finalist at the 2018 eWorld Cup, it should be noted — is No. 9 in the overall eMLS standings heading into eMLS Cup, and beat opponents currently placed 24th and 12th out of 25 eMLS competitors in 2020 in his side of the eMLS Tournament Special Bracket.

By contrast, LAFC newcomer RemiMartinn is in 5th place after two strong showings in his first two League Series events, only losing on penalties to eventual winner Fiddle in League Series Two. His 3-1 win over the LA Galaxy's Godfather in the first round of the Tournament Special was also a noteworthy performance, cementing his good run over an accomplished rival placed right below him in the eMLS standings.

Based on their eMLS accomplishments, it would seem RemiMartinn is the slight favorite here. Unfortunately, their only previous competitive matchup, a 3-3 draw in the League Series One regular season offers few clues as to who might have the edge, but does tease the prospect of another goal-fest on Sunday evening. Still, that did not stop SKC from throwing down the gauntlet to LAFC after their win in Episode 2:

New York City FC vs. Atlanta United

MLS: Sean Johnson vs. Franco Escobar

Along with Diomande and Wan Kuzain, Escobar certainly turned a few heads with his FIFA 20 play in the first two rounds of the Tournament Special. He comfortably beat Orlando star Nani in the first round, but his more impressive showing may have come in the quarterfinal leg he didn't win, coming back to post a 1-1 tie with Toronto's Marky Delgado, another one of the most accomplished FIFA players among the MLS contingent in the Tournament Special.

That said, Sean Johnson turned in a couple strong performances, even as he and NYCFC went all the way to the golden goal tiebreaker before edging out FC Dallas' Fafa Picault in the quarterfinals. Perhaps the most impressive performer, though, was not the real Sean Johnson but the virtual Sean Johnson, who came up with multiple impressive saves in all of NYCFC's games back on May 3.

eMLS: Didychrislito vs. Paulo Neto

Clearly the powerhouse showdown of the semifinals among eMLS players, Didychrislito vs. Paulo Neto is must-see viewing for anyone who wants to see how FIFA 20 is played at the highest levels. Both have won the regular season at League Series events, and along with FC Cincinnati's Fiddle, they are the top eMLS performers of 2020, with the trio forming a comfortable top 3 in the standings heading into eMLS Cup.

Atlanta's Paulo Neto is the new sensation — the 17-year-old was signed by the Five Stripes from Brazil this offseason after some impressive showings at international events, and is currently the No. 11-ranked FIFA 20 player in the world on PS4. The only eMLS opponent he seemingly hasn't figured out is Fiddle, who defeated him on penalties in the League Series One quarterfinals before pulling out a 2-0 win in the League Series Two final.

Neto saved perhaps his most dramatic performance of the year for the Tournament Special quarterfinal on May 10, though, scoring an 84th-minute winner to break a tense deadlock with TFC and send Atlanta to this Sunday's championship episode:

Didychrislito is an eMLS original, now in his third year representing NYCFC — in that time, he has only missed out on the knockout stage of an event once. On the other hand, he is yet to claim an event win in eMLS, and an Tournament Special win could provide him boost he needs to get him over the edge at eMLS Cup.

The Cityzens' pro FIFA player does have one point in his favor heading into his matchup, having defeated Paulo Neto 2-1 in their lone eMLS meeting so far — a regular-season matchup in League Series One. Still, with both of these eMLS players seemingly so evenly matched, it seems like this one is a prime candidate to be decided in the first leg — or golden goal overtime — by the MLS players.

The Pick

With almost all the eMLS matchups being close affairs, the MLS players have had a big say in deciding this tournament so far. That would seem to favor Sporting KC. But with the level of MLS players rising, those first legs could become tighter affairs, potentially leaving a lot more to play for when eMLS players take to the controllers in the second leg. I'll still go with Sporting — Wan Kuzain might well be the best FIFA 20 player in MLS, and that should be enough to separate them from the pack. If it does come down to eMLS vs. eMLS, though, the momentum might just shift to the NYCFC-Atlanta side of the bracket.