The MLS Is Back Tournament is down to the semifinal stage. And after Portland's victory over Philadelphia on Wednesday night, just one spot in the final remains.
Honestly, I can make a compelling argument for both remaining teams (and did, in my head, for quite a while). Eventually, one has to lay the chips down by making a call. Here's mine for the remaining semifinal.
Minnesota United vs. Orlando City SC
Thursday, August 6 (8 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN, TVAS2 in Canada)
Orlando City have been the best feel-good story at MLS is Back, hands down. They've played with a 90-minute maturity rarely seen over the club's first five years, while maintaining the “Cardiac Cats” antics that have authored so many of their victories. I've enjoyed every second of their play since about the hour mark of their tourney opener. Oscar Pareja has his boys playing with a cohesive spirit, and they absolutely can win MLS is Back.
Of course, that last sentence can also easily apply to Adrian Heath's Minnesota United. Even if most observers aren't buying the excessive underdog routine, the Loons have definitely come to Orlando in the mood to scrap. They're brave and brash and can come at you in different ways. Even with Romain Metanire and Kevin Molino nursing ailments, Minnesota essentially crushed San Jose by out-San Jose-ing them. This flexibility is a benefit of the reliable core strength provided by Ozzie Alonso, Jan Gregus and now Jacori Hayes.
You know, I almost went with Orlando City against LAFC, but decided against it. I'm afraid it'll have to be that way again, as I just can't pick against Minnesota United, dinged up or not. Like Philadelphia, the Loons were among my top favorites for the title before the tournament kicked off. After they coolly bounced arguably two of the three scariest teams down in Orlando, I'm sticking with them to reach the final... even if that makes me a major buzzkill.
Prediction: Minnesota United