The MLS is Back Tournament field has been whittled down to just four clubs as we look ahead to the semifinals. And with each of the remaining teams in the fight being fueled by their own motivations to go ahead and win it.
For instance, taking the title would feel very different to perennial contender Portland than it would for Orlando City SC. As such, it seemed like a good idea to examine precisely what banking the crown would mean to the clubs still in it to win it.
Minnesota United FC
After spending their first two seasons looking up at most of the league, the Loons enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2019. They jumped from 18th to seventh in the overall MLS table, earned the first playoff invite in club history and darn near pushed their first U.S. Open Cup final experience into extratime. The point is, winning MLS is Back would be another natural step in Minnesota United’s already-unfolding ascension toward the league elite.
Orlando City SC
Well, this one is very simple. The Lions entered MLS at the same time as NYCFC, but haven’t clinched a postseason berth, and have not typically looked like a team intent on doing so. In fact, Orlando City still have yet to top their inaugural season (12 wins, 44 points, seventh in the East, which certainly isn't a high hurdle). Basically, it's been rough. Winning this tournament would be a definitive signal that a new, better chapter has begun in Orlando and a big thanks to the local fans who have stood by them through the struggles.
The Union have been at it longer, enjoyed a little more success and come closer to snatching a trophy than Minnesota United. Honestly, though, the general gist of the Loons blurb above qualifies just as well here. Philly have built a competitive side capable of making a solid charge up any hill put before them. Now it's time for them to continue the trend of improvement by actually getting to a summit.
Critiques of the Timbers tend to follow a standard form. They're too predictable tactically. They're too reliant on a group of club icons well past 30 now. You get the idea, and to be fair, such commentary darts are not far off the bullseye. Because of all this, a Portland triumph in Orlando would send a loud, clear message to its critics and (more importantly) to the rest of the league: We've still got the moves, and are a threat to take MLS Cup even if you know how we'll try to do it.