PREVIEW- The MLS is Back Round of 16 Kicks off Saturday Night putting a few dud matchups and a few great ones on the docket through next Tuesday. Here is a comprehensive breakdown of each team, and how they may approach this matchup. As always, predictions are included. To view the bracket lay-out, click here.
MLS is Back Round of 16 Breakdown
Orlando City vs. Montreal Impact; July 25th, 8:00pm EST, ESPN2
This is not a matchup I would have expected to see in the MLS is Back knockout stage. Oscar Pareja has turned around Orlando City in this tournament. They’ve been a 90 minute team and attack in waves. Dom Dwyer hasn’t impressed but several other players have been dangerous. Chris Mueller has lived up to his nickname Cash. Nani has been a leader and the center backs have been tidy at the back.
Montreal Impact on the other hand snuck into the Round of 16 by the skin of their teeth. Saphir Taider scored the only goal in their only win of the group stage. They’ve worked hard in a low-block counter set. Thierry Henry has kept things simple. If they’re getting a result against Orlando, it will be with heroic defending and finding an unlikely goal.
This game is Orlando’s to lose. They’re better, they’ve played better, and they’re more rested. One of their attackers scores the first goal and they win this game easily. Prediction: Orlando City 2-0
Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution; July 25th, 10:30pm EST, ESPN2
The Philadelphia Union had a golden opportunity to take some of the hype around the Orlando City Lions and give it to themselves. However, that didn’t happen. In the final group stage match, Philadelphia drew, and took second place in the group. The Union will rely on their veterans, including Alejandro Bedoya and midfielder Ilsinho, to defeat the Revolution.
Meanwhile, New England featured in a lackluster group. Just like the Union, New England finished second in their group, but behind Toronto FC. However, concerning for the Revolution is the single win in their group. Two draws and one win might not be enough to take on a hungry Union club.
This match is really Philadelphia’s to lose. Sure, the Revolution might have the better and more experienced manager in Bruce Arena. However, Jim Curtain and company should pick up an easy victory. Prediction: Philadelphia Union 2-0
Toronto FC vs. NYCFC; July 26th, 8:30pm EST, FS1
A knock-out, winner take all matchup between these two clubs for the 4th time since 2017 between these two teams, and Toronto FC have won all of the previous three. Last year, NYCFC were the favorites that got upset, largely thanks to their own doing. This time, Toronto are the favorites.
You could expect TFC to come out strong like they have all tournament long. Michael Bradley and Pozuelo bossing the midfield, with Ayo Akinola who will cause a ton of problems for Caellens and co. on the NYCFC back line.
What will be interesting is if NYCFC can get Heber or Maxi Moralez on the field. If they can do that, there is a good chance for them to pull the upset. TFC did not face one difficult team in their group, and any time anyone decently put together an attack against their fragile center back situation, they looked vulnerable. That is NYCFC’s only real hope. Prediction: Toronto FC 2 – 1
Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps; July 26th, 11pm EST, FS1
Sporting Kansas City is expected to take care of this one. They’ve looked like the better team in nearly all of their matches so far, and despite dropping the first one, they look like they’re really growing into stride. Khiry Shelton has been awesome all-tournament for them, and Alan Pulido has torn apart much better backlines than the one VWFC have.
The one thing VWFC possesses at MLS is Back right now, is a stroke of luck. After being easily the worst team in their group up until the final 20 minutes, they were able to snag two goals to maybe even their own surprise. If the luck keeps rolling, who knows. They could pull off an upset, But it surely won’t be because they’re the better team. Prediction: Sporting KC 3-0
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake; July 27th, 8:30pm EST, FS1
The San Jose Earthquakes have looked like one of the best teams in the tournament. After a wild affair against Vancouver, they rightfully came out on top. Then, they dismantled the Chicago Fire. Their attack has grown, and become more cohesive as the games have gone on, and they look like a team you should fear.
Real Salt Lake might still be without Albert Rusnak, who so far has been the only player on their team who seems remotely dangerous enough to create a goal. The roster they have doesn’t breed “goal lover’s heaven,” in watching their matchups. However, their backline has been relatively difficult to break down. It’s whether or not they keep from being gappy late on, that will decide if they can win. Prediction: San Jose Earthquakes 1-0
Seattle Sounders vs. LAFC; July 27th, 11pm EST, FS1
The Seattle Sounders are a bit depleted on defense. That’s not because of any lapse in play against the Vancouver Whitecaps, in a 3-0 victory. Instead, Yeimar Gomez Andrade is questionable and Xavier Arreaga is in concussion protocol. The Sounders are scrambling right now, with Shane O’Neill as the only true centerback on the roster now. It looks like Gustav Svensson or Jordy Delem will have to shift into the CB role. Will that hold up against an LAFC team that scored six goals against Los Angeles? It’s a worrisome situation for the Sounders.
LAFC haven’t been perfect in this tournament. Yes, they have certainly proved that they can compete without their captain and Mexican international Carlos Vela. However, Los Angeles gave up two victories in the tournament against Houston and Portland. The Portland one came at a shock, as poor defending on Jeremy Ebobisse showed some sort of LAFC flaw. Unlike Seattle, though, their defense remains intact.
It’s tough to pick against the defending MLS Cup champions. This was the Western Conference Final matchup last year and the Sounders stunned LAFC at their home field. In Orlando, the situation might be different. Seattle’s defensive injuries are worrisome. I would love for them to prove me wrong, but I’ve got LAFC taking this one. Prediction: LAFC 2-1
Columbus Crew vs. Minnesota United FC; July 28th, 8pm EST, ESPN
Other than Seattle Sounders and LAFC, this is the best matchup of the Round of 16. Columbus Crew SC were the class of the group stage, undefeated with no goals conceded. Gyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayán have been nicknamed ZZ Top in this tournament and they’ve been fantastic. Pedro Santos and Luis Diaz have been complementary offensive pieces. The defense has been solid with everyone healthy.
Minnesota United managed the group stage well and were a bit pragmatic. They got a win after going up an man in Sporting KC, but haven’t won a game since. At any one time, they have 4-5 players on the field who can create a scoring opportunity. They’ve yet to have a team go right up the middle at the backline without Ike Opara. They’re a solid team, they just drew a tough matchup in the first round. Columbus has no distinct weakness to be exploited. Prediction: Columbus Crew 2-1
Portland Timbers vs. FC Cincinnati; July 28th, 10:30pm EST, ESPN
Raise your hand if you saw this match up coming! No hands should be raised right now, let’s be totally honest. The Portland Timbers took the top spot in their group courtesy of a late Jeremy Ebobisse goal against LAFC to draw the feared California club. Portland left the group stage with two victories and one tie. It was a good look in the group stage for the Timbers, and Ebobisse has shined in Orlando.
Meanwhile, hello Queen City! We’re not rushing to conclusions by any means, but could this be a turnaround for FC Cincinnati? New manager, new look. The team has gone from the laughing stock of MLS to winning a few games and making the MLS is Back knockout rounds. It’d be a stretch to say that they can beat Portland, but we’ve obviously seen a lot more stranger things happen in Orlando. Prediction: Chaos