MLS is Back Tournament - semifinal bracket

The neutral's guide to picking a team in the MLS is Back Tournament semifinals | Sam Jones

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Daily Kick Off runs seven days a week during the MLS is Back Tournament and it is authored by J. Sam Jones. This piece originally ran during Monday's edition.


Four teams left. They’re probably not your team. Why? I rigged the tournament against your team specifically. Because I don’t like your team. And everyone knows the newsletter writer holds all the cards in this league.

That being said, you’ll need one to cheer for over the last three games. I’m giving you an abridged bandwagoner’s guide to help you decide.

Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union celebrate one of their goals in a quarterfinal victory over Sporting Kansas City | USA Today Sports Images

Fun-ocity

Ilsinho. A fascinating tendency to score stunning goals from out of nowhere. Alejandro Bedoya. An extremely likable coach who radiates warmth and kindness. Future stars and wonderkids, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, who have Euro clubs tripping over themselves. Jose Martinez’s inevitable yellow card per game and imminent descent into total madness. Andre Blake Redemption Tour 2020. Doop. The fun is high here, folks. You just have to be cool sometimes with it coming in sudden bursts.

Cool?

I’ve been saying all tournament that the Union are for The People. I’m not sure the rest of the league has quite understood yet. This is like getting in on an indie band that will have third-row billing on a music festival poster in three years while they’re just starting out on Bandcamp. The ceiling for cool here is extremely high. Until they get too popular and then you have to pretend like you either don’t own five of their t-shirts or have to loudly proclaim in every conversation about them that you knew them before they were big.

Team is for you if

You own a record by the band The Mountain Goats or have at least told your friends you do.

Win Probability (Vague Analysis)

Blake has been the 'keeper of the tournament and the 15-minute, three-goal ambush of Sporting KC the other night was impressive. The attack has stalled at times though. If SKC marked a turning point and this team is creating handfuls of chances here and there, Blake and McKenzie (and underrated Jack Elliot) will be more than enough to give them a strong chance to win it all.

Win Probability (Actual Analysis)

One in four.

Too Long, Didn’t Read, Just wanted a haiku:

Ilisinho is here
You don’t need other reasons
Seriously, duh

Portland Timbers

Sebastian Blanco has been one of the best players in the MLS is Back Tournament | USA Today Sports Images

Fun-ocity

Sebastian Blanco is a joy to watch right now. Throw in the fact that Diego Valeri still has enough in the tank to come out for a while each game and do something absurd and very Diego Valeri, and this team has some moments. It’s even better when someone like Andy Polo shows up from nowhere and scores from like 40 yards away. The Chara brothers remain wonderful to watch.

The capstone here though is Steve Clark, a ‘keeper who could literally do anything at any time and no one would be surprised.

Cool?

Portland is an outlier in this group because they’ve been in bigger games before. No one else here has ever earned a Champions League spot. It makes them the been-there-done-that team without the obnoxious swagger. They’re good and they know it, but they’re not rubbing it in your face. It’s the good team you can get behind without feeling bad about it.

Team is for you if

You have a general sense of antipathy towards Seattle, Washington or have ever unexpectedly set off fireworks at a party just to make things interesting.

Win Probability (Vague Analysis)

The Timbers have been quietly steady throughout the tournament. Save for one wild penalty against Cincinnati that I’m still not quite sure actually happened. They’ve outplayed every team they’ve come across so far, and Blanco can absolutely carry them across the finish line here if he needs to.

Win Probability (Actual Analysis)

One in four.

Too Long, Didn’t Read, Just wanted a haiku:

I hate Seattle
This will upset Seattle
I hate Seattle

Minnesota United

Jacori Hayes and Hassani Dotson celebrate scoring in Minnesota United's quarterfinal win over the San Jose Earthquakes | Matthew Stith and Jared Martinez

Fun-ocity

This team had done just enough to get by before suddenly unleashing a flurry of haymakers on San Jose the other night. They picked the Quakes apart at every available opportunity, despite having just 35% of possession. There’s something enjoyable in knowing that every time you go forward there’s going to be a real opportunity to score, even if those moments going forward are spaced out. It’s hard to tell if they’ll be able to keep that up over the next couple of games, but you know that at the very least this team will look to be opportunistic. If that’s your definition of fun, do you.

Cool?

Everyone loves a story where the hero has to overcome the odds. That’s not quite what this is, but it’s still cool to see a team that’s steadily improved each year since their inception continue to make progress.

Also, Wonderwall remains cool in the cheesiest way. You can fight me over that.

Team is for you if

You keep detailed lists of those who’ve wronged you.

Win Probability (Vague Analysis)

It’s a good team. It’s been a good team. They haven’t lost in 2020. They’ve been able to pick their spots so far and there’s no reason to think that will stop anytime soon. Are they going to thump teams over the next two games like they did to San Jose? Probably not, but they can absolutely dictate those games until they lift the trophy.

Win Probability (Actual Analysis)

One in four.

Too Long, Didn’t Read, Just wanted a haiku:

At speeds of lightning
The cry goes up far and near
Look, it’s Underdog

Orlando City

Nani celebrates his winning PK for Orlando City against LAFC | USA Today Sports Images

Fun-ocity

I’ve written a lot about this. They’ve been a blast. A win would mean the most to their fan base. Their last-minute equalizer and subsequent shootout win against LAFC felt like an actual, genuine, moment. Chris Mueller has been as exciting as any winger in the tournament and will hopefully be healthy the rest of the way. Nani has been doing Nani things. They’ve controlled games, they’ve been extremely positive and they’ve put together tons of chances. They’ve been about as fun as it gets.

Cool?

Redemption arcs are always cool. What makes it especially cool is how much the fan base cares. No matter what you might hear, caring is cool.

More than any other team it feels like their run has been special. Like one of those magical NCAA Tournament runs where a lower seed just keeps winning. I would rate that as pretty cool.

Team is for you if

You enjoyed Kylo Ren saving the day in the latest Star Wars.

Win Probability (Vague Analysis)

On top of playing excellent soccer, they have momentum on their side in a way the other team’s don’t right now. It feels more important to this group than others. You keep waiting for them to falter under that pressure, but they haven’t yet. No reason they can’t keep that going until they lift a trophy.

Win Probability (Actual Analysis)

One in four.

Too Long, Didn’t Read, Just wanted a haiku:

People like us now
How did that happen? Well. Uh…
To be honest [shrug]

DAILY TOURNAMENT NEWS: Stay up on everything happening in Orlando: Sign Up for The Daily Kickoff to get all the big stories delivered to your inbox.

Series: 
Topics: 

Childhood cancer doesn’t stop for COVID-19

Share your message of hope to inspire their fight as part of childhood cancer awareness month. Learn how you can support