Three weeks of the eMLS Tournament Special presented by Coca-Cola and PlayStation are in the books. That means there's only one semifinal spot left up for grabs when four more MLS teams clash in FIFA 20 on Sunday evening as part of this five-week tournament to support hunger relief efforts (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN).
This weekend's episode features a particularly intriguing matchup. Orlando City winger and Portuguese national team legend Nani joins up with his club's eMLS pro, FIFA Abe, to face rival Atlanta United, with Franco Escobar and young FIFA 20 phenom Paulo Neto on the sticks for the Five Stripes. Atlanta have historically dominated this matchup on the field, but perhaps this will be the arena where Orlando finally starts to turn the tide.
The opener, though, is the all-Canadian affair between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC. 'Caps defender Erik Godoy will participate from the player side, joining exraa, another of the talented young newcomers to the eMLS circuit this year. Toronto, on the other hand, will be represented by midfielder Marky Delgado and eMLS pro PhilB94.
The winners of each of these two-legged aggregate goals series (with a golden goal tiebreaker if necessary) will then face off in the final quarterfinal of the eMLS Tournament Special. The winners of that series will join LAFC, Sporting Kansas City, and New York City FC in the final episode to decide the champion on May 17.
MLS player preview
As has typically been the case in the tournament, the MLS player side comes with a bit of mystery, with the four players being much more well-known for their exploits on the field than any of their hobbies off of it. Still, we've seen plenty of good banter between on-field rivals in the first three episodes of the eMLS Tournament Special, and there's no reason to think that won't stop, especially between foes like Nani and Escobar who have also seen plenty of each other between the lines.
Nani admitted in an interview with MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert on Friday that he is a little rusty in FIFA, but he has also clearly been taking the time to brush up on his skills and knows the importance of this rivalry matchup, no matter the venue.
“I expect a tough game," Nani said. "Playing against Atlanta is always difficult. But we are Orlando City, I must represent in the best way. I’m going to give my best but I’m sure my opponent is tough. He’ll give me a tough time.”
Escobar has also been practicing and even played against Neto previously, dropping a 3-0 decision to one of the highest-ranked players in the world:
As you can see here and further deduce from PhilB94's 30-0 record against the TFC first team, there's a good reason why MLS players and eMLS players don't face each other in this tournament — just like pretty much anything in life, the practice and time the FIFA 20 professionals put in almost always shines through. That's not to say the MLS players don't have a trick or two up their sleeves.
In fact, TFC's Delgado might be the best of the bunch, even as his opponent remains more of an unknown in terms of his FIFA experience. The American midfielder has his own Twitch channel and has been a regular FIFA Ultimate Team player over quarantine, participating in the demanding FUT Champions tournaments:
The FUT Champions experience may not directly translate to this tournament, inasmuch as gamers can select any player in the game in FUT (e.g. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and even past legends such as Johan Cruyff), whereas the eMLS Tournament Special is limited to your own MLS team's roster. Still, given the level of FUT Champions competition, it's likely Delgado is the best MLS player of this crop.
eMLS player preview
The eMLS side will offer quality matchups across the board on Sunday evening. Atlanta's Paulo Neto was probably the most intriguing addition to the eMLS group in 2020, with the Five Stripes recruiting the teenager from Brazil. He is currently the No. 11-ranked PS4 player in the world, and reached the quarterfinal of eMLS League Series One before making it all the way to the final of League Series Two. On both occasions, he was narrowly defeated by the back-to-back League Series champion, Fiddle, and this Sunday he should be the favorite among eMLS players.
Paulo Neto's opponent, FIFA Abe, is a little more familiar with the eMLS circuit, having competed for Orlando in both 2018 and 2019. He also has an event title to his name after winning last year's eMLS All-Star Challenge in his hometown. However, he has struggled to make as much of an impact on the bigger eMLS stages, finishing 18th and then 15th in League Series One and Two this year. His best finish in eMLS was a run to the quarterfinal round of eMLS Cup 2019, where he fell to eventual champion Doolsta.
The Vancouver-Toronto matchup will offer up a similar showdown between eMLS newcomer and veteran. The Whitecaps' exraa, like Neto, is still a teenager, and made the eMLS world take notice when he made a run to the semifinals of League Series One before falling to Fiddle 4-4 in perhaps the most memorable and wild eMLS encounter of the year so far.
He didn't fare as well in League Series Two, finishing 11th and failing to qualify for the knockout stage, but his performances over those two events combined were still enough to earn him one of four byes to the eMLS Cup quarterfinals.
PhilB94 will also be playing in eMLS Cup 2020, albeit starting a round earlier than exraa, after finishing eighth in both League Series events. He missed out on the first quarterfinals due to the rule guaranteeing the host team's player the last of eight spots, and fell 2-1 to Paulo Neto in the League Series Two quarterfinal. He also had a very promising start to 2019 with two knockout stage appearances in the League Series event, but missed out on eMLS Cup due to suspension. He should provide stiff competition for his cross-country rival in one of the most evenly-matched eMLS showdowns of the whole tournament — but you'll have to watch on Sunday to find out how it all goes down.