Few will dispute that the MLS is Back Tournament has provided a final pitting the two best teams in the competition.
The Portland Timbers were the first to reach the championship match after a 2-1 semifinal win over the Philadelphia Union and they've been good value throughout this tournament. Although they didn't arrive in Orlando as a popular favorite to win it all, they've definitely looked the part and played like a team that deserves to be recognized among the league's elite in 2020. At no point have they looked outmatched in a competition that has seen them go toe-to-toe with fancied sides like LAFC, LA Galaxy and NYCFC.
In the final they will meet the surprise team of the tournament in Orlando City, who knocked off Minnesota United in the semis. The Lions' turnaround under new head coach Oscar Pareja has come much sooner than expected and they have played the tournament on the front foot. Pareja was always hoping to use this event as a game-changer: a way to rid the team of the pressure and burden that came with five MLS seasons in which Orlando failed to make the postseason. Mission accomplished after this run to the final. There will be an injection of renewed belief in the organization and the fanbase no matter the result.
The stakes on August 11 are clear: One team will walk away with a Concacaf Champions League place, a trophy and chunk of prize money to boot. Here's an in-depth look at the matchup:
Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City SC
Tuesday, August 11 (8:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN, TVAS2 in Canada)
The MLS is Back Tournament will culminate in an intriguing final between two teams that are mirror images in many respects, managed by coaches who are uncompromising in their beliefs.
It's a sixth tournament final in eight seasons as a pro head coach for Portland's Giovanni Savarese, who has excelled in building yet another tightly-knit group that can successfully execute a game plan to slow down any opponent. Savarese, who earned his first MLS head coaching role with the Timbers in 2018, will match wits against one of the most successful managers in recent MLS history who is looking to lead his new club to its first silverware in MLS. Orlando City, an expansion side in 2015, have never made the MLS Cup Playoffs or advanced to a final during their five years in MLS.
Sebastian Blanco celebrates after his equalizer in the quarterfinal against NYCFC | Creators Network
The Timbers have been convincing from the very start of the tournament with strong group stage showings against both LA clubs and Houston to finish top in Group F. Their moment of adversity came in the Round of 16 when they were pushed to a penalty kick shootout by FC Cincinnati, and they haven't looked back since with decisive victories against NYCFC and Philadelphia to reach the final.
Their style has been ruthless and effective throughout their run. The Timbers' compact tactical structure—starring trusty midfield failsafe Diego Chara—has made them difficult to break down, and their attacking talent has delivered on the other end. Jeremy Ebobisse (4 goals) and Sebastian Blanco (3 goals) have been the stars with club legend Diego Valeri and new star striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda providing world-class quality in support.
Nani celebrates after scoring the winning goal in the quarterfinal penalty kick shootout against LAFC. | Creators Network
The Lions were just as convincing as the Timbers during their matches and were also rarely outplayed. That's saying a lot for a team that had to go through the likes of NYCFC (No. 1 in the East in 2019), LAFC (Supporters' Shield winners in 2019) and Philadelphia (semifinalists at MLS is Back) to reach the final. It's been a remarkable shift in mentality for a team previously accustomed to expecting the second shoe to drop. It's been very different under Pareja: Orlando have put matches on their own terms using a fairly consistent starting XI throughout the competition. That familiarity has allowed them to grow and build momentum as the tournament has progressed with multiple players coming up with the big play. Team captain Nani has owned several of those moments, setting the tone for a team that plays with purpose and conviction.
Orlando City have the all-time edge over the Portland Timbers.
As inter-conference opponents, the Timbers have faced Orlando City once in each of the last five seasons since the Lions joined the league in 2015. Orlando (3W-1L-1D) have the advantage with a 10-7 edge in goals scored across the matchups:
- July 18, 2019:Portland 1, Orlando 1
- April 8, 2018:Orlando 3, Portland 2
- Sept. 24, 2017:Portland 3, Orlando 0
- April 3, 2016: Orlando 4, Portland 1
- April 12, 2015:Portland 0, Orlando 2
More pertinent to this matchup might be the head-to-head meetings between Savarese and Pareja, who formerly coached FC Dallas. There are just two of them and they both came in 2018: a 1-1 draw on March 24 in Dallas and a 0-0 result on September 29 in Portland.