The pressure is set to rise even further at the MLS is Back Tournament Knockout Stage presented by Audi.
The quarterfinals kicked off on Thursday as the tournament in Orlando rapidly approaches its conclusion, when one team will walk away with a Concacaf Champions League place, a trophy and chunk of prize money to boot.
- July 30: Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City (3-1 | RECAP)
- July 31: Orlando City SC vs. LAFC
- Aug. 1: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota United
- Aug. 1: NYCFC vs. Portland Timbers
Here's a look at each of the remaining quarterfinal matchups:
Orlando City vs. LAFC
Friday, July 31 (7:30 pm ET | FS1, TUDN, UniMas in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada)
Orlando City are on a tournament run that few would have predicted in the lead-up, but they will truly have their work cut out for them in the quarterfinals when they face the favorites to win it all in LAFC. While the Lions have mostly looked steady and were never outplayed in their tournament matches to date, they’ll be tested by an LAFC team that can pressure and score at will (15 goals in 4 matches).
Orlando City: They may have only played six official matches under new head coach Oscar Pareja, but they already have a very different complexion from the team that failed to qualify for the postseason in its first five seasons in MLS. The players claim it's a new belief in the squad that originates from a driven and detail-oriented coaching staff that's getting the best out of the players on the squad. There's no doubt that Orlando have earned their way to the final eight. They not only topped Group A, but they also earned results against two other fellow quarterfinalists, beating NYCFC and tying the Philadelphia Union. The only negative along the road has been losing striker Dom Dwyer to injury for the rest of the tournament.
LAFC: Bob Bradley's men rolled on to the quarterfinals and cemented their status as tournament favorites with a revenge win over the team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs. Their 3-1 Round of 16 win over Seattle also extended the Black-and-Gold’s six-match unbeaten run to start 2020, albeit with three draws. Diego Rossi took sole ownership of the race for the Golden Boot presented by Audi thanks to his brace, while Latif Blessing rounded out a strong performance with a goal of his own. The team has been firing on all cylinders even without absent MVP Carlos Vela, though the backline still had some suspect moments even in an improved performance against Seattle.
Series history: Only a pair of meetings to speak of between these two inter-conference foes, given that LAFC only started competing in MLS in 2018. They have the advantage in that short series, winning 4-1 at Banc of California Stadium on July 7, 2018 and drawing 2-2 in Orlando on Sept. 7, 2019. Of note: Rossi scored in each of those encounters.
San Jose vs. Minnesota
Saturday, August 1 (8 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN in Canada)
Entertainment is guaranteed when the San Jose Earthquakes and Minnesota United FC meet in a quarterfinal that has consistently delivered goals and drama during their history of MLS regular season meetings. This quarterfinal will represent a major leap for the winner from up-and-coming force to real contender status. With Minnesota adopting an underdog mentality throughout the tournament, expect San Jose to be the surprise favorites going into this quarterfinal. That status didn't bother them in the least in their most recent matches against Chicago Fire and Real Salt Lake.
San Jose Earthquakes: Matias Almeyda's side unleashed their uptempo, high-pressure, high-risk style in all four of their matches so far and they have yet to let up in the heat and humidity of Orlando. It may have ultimately helped the Earthquakes that they were the first team to arrive in Orlando ahead of the tournament given they were unable to resume full team training with restrictions in place in their home market. Almeyda has largely maintained a consistent starting XI in the tournament, with veterans like Shea Salinas and MLS all-time leading scorer Chris Wondolowski helping to close out matches off the bench. With nearly a full week of rest ahead of the quarterfinal, expect the Quakes to be ready to go at full bore.
Minnesota United: Led by another charismatic coach in Adrian Heath, the Loons are a force on the rise in MLS. After struggling in their first two seasons in 2017 (18 losses) and 2018 (20 losses), the team has since turned things around after making some major roster moves ahead of the inauguration of Allianz Field in 2019. They made the postseason for the first time last year and have been touted as potential Western Conference contenders entering the 2020 season. Although they're missing reigning Defender of the Year Ike Opara who stayed back in Minnesota, the club has one of the deepest and well-balanced squads in MLS and they're getting contributions from every player with a new hero emerging in every tournament match.
Series history: After winning the first four MLS meetings between the two teams, San Jose has since dropped all three matchups against Minnesota during the Matias Almeyda era which started in 2019. That streak includes the only meeting this year on March 7, when MNUFC throttled the Quakes 5-2 in San Jose. There have been 31 total goals scored across the 7 all-time meetings.
NYCFC vs. Portland Timbers
Saturday, August 1 (10:30 pm ET | FS1, TUDN in US; TSN in Canada)
It's one of the most intriguing matchups of the quarterfinal round: two savvy teams with personality, big-game players and perennially high expectations clash in a match that will be tough to predict. Expect NYCFC to keep possession with Portland picking their moments to pounce.
NYCFC: They're making the most of the lifeline they were granted when a combination of group stage results sent them through to the knockouts as one of the best third-place teams. They made it count by ousting Toronto FC with a vintage NYCFC quality performance. That Round of 16 result showed just how important playmaker Maxi Moralez is to their fortunes. His magic has helped their vaunted attackers come to life, including forward Valentin Castellanos who got his first goal of 2020. NYCFC will feel like they have as good a chance at the title as any team left standing.
Portland Timbers: You can always count on the fight and competitive spirit from Giovanni Savarese's Timbers and they showed it in every match of their tournament so far, tying high-flying LAFC 2-2 and beating the LA Galaxy 2-1 in a tough Group F. They've been inspired by Sebastian Blanco, who seems to deliver the game-breaking play in every match and now he finally has big signing Jaroslaw Niezgoda as a target. The Polish striker made his debut for the club in Orlando and already has two goals in his last two games.
Series history: These two clubs have faced each other five times in MLS regular season history with Portland owning a commanding 4W-1L-0T record. The lone NYCFC win came on May 15, 2016 in Portland and it's worth noting that Blanco has scored in the last meetings.