MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16: An early preview at each match

The MLS is Back Tournament Knockout Stage presented by Audi is here. It's time to win or go home.

The top two teams from each of the six groups earned automatic berths to the Round of 16 and four other wild cards rounded out the field: the next four best 3rd-place finishers based on points total (and other tiebreakers, if necessary).

Round of 16 matchups

Here's a look at each of the Round of 16 matchups:

Columbus vs. Minnesota

Tuesday, July 28 (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN in Canada)

The best team in the tournament so far will meet one of 2019’s most improved outfits in what should prove to be an intriguing matchup between two teams that will feel like they have a real shot at the title. The so-far-dominant Crew (4W-0L-1D) should be favorites, but Adrian Heath’s Minnesota (3W-0L-2D) have shown time and again over the last year that they are not to be counted out.

Columbus: The Crew have played pretty passing soccer, comfortably dispatched two Eastern Conference powers (albeit ones that seem to be sliding in 2020) and put up the tournament’s joint-largest margin of victory to date, all while rotating their squad. There have been a few injury questions in the team, but the star trio of Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Zelarayan and Gyasi Zardes are all playing at a high level and do not seem ready to let up anytime soon.

Minnesota: The Loons, who launched themselves into the league’s upper echelon in 2019 but are without reigning Defender of the Year Ike Opara for the MLS is Back Tournament, have had a solid, if not fully convincing showing in Orlando so far. They posted a memorable comeback win in their opener against Sporting Kansas City, which ultimately proved crucial to their advancement, and looked good value for the draws they earned in their final two group games. They may need to hit another gear to beat Columbus, though.

Series History: The two teams have met just three times prior, with Columbus holding a slight 2W-0D-1L advantage over their Western Conference opponents in MLS play. However, the Loons won their most recent meeting, on May 19, 2019, with none other than former Crew winger Ethan Finlay, also a two-goal scorer against Colorado on Wednesday night, getting the winner. The two squads have never met in postseason or Open Cup play.


Portland vs. Cincinnati

Tuesday, July 28 (10:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN in Canada)

The tournament-tested Timbers meet Cinderella story FC Cincinnati, but the series history reminds us that things may not always be as straightforward as they seen. Can FCC keep their run under Jaap Stam going? Or will the Timbers frustrate yet another opponent en route to a deep run in the MLS is Back Tournament?

Portland: The Timbers were fully deserving of their spot at the top of the group, sticking with it and finding a late equalizer even when it looked like LAFC might run away with their Group F finale. The reward for their persistence is avoiding arch rivals (and reigning MLS Cup champs) Seattle and instead getting a kinder Round of 16 matchup in FC Cincinnati. It won’t be easy — just ask Atlanta or the Red Bulls — but given the quality and cohesion they have, it’s easy to see why the Timbers might like this matchup as far as their chances for a deep run are concerned. 

Cincinnati: After their 4-0 loss to Columbus to start the tournament, nobody would have predicted that FC Cincy would make it to the Knockout Stage. But with Jaap Stam making some changes to their tactics, the Orange and Blue managed to post two clean sheets and beat Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls with three goals in two games. Their new defensive approach should keep in the game vs. Portland, and a timely goal could prove to be the difference.

Series History: Just one game between the Timbers and last year’s expansion side so far, and it’s bound to give Cincy some encouragement.,FCC dispatched the Timbers 3-0 all the way back on March 17, 2019, earning their win as an MLS team. Bear in mind, though that the Timbers were on game three of a 12-game road trip to start the 2019 season.

Series: 

MLS Unites to VOTE

Join Major League Soccer, Black Players for Change, and the MLS Players Association in participating in the November 3 general election. In-person early voting has started in 45 states. Make a plan to vote.