We are finally to the conclusion of the MLS is Back Tournament and our two competitors in the final are two surprises to say the least. We find ourselves with the hometown Orlando City taking on the Portland Timbers. These two clubs have had quite the road to get to this point but nonetheless have deserved to be here. I would go over both of their journeys to get to the final but both Sean Clark and I wrote articles on these two clubs.
Links for them are here:
I am going to dive into key matchups and my prediction for the score line.
The first matchup I am interested in is Nani vs Sebastian Blanco. Nani throughout this whole tournament has put Orlando City on his back, especially in the last match against Minnesota United. He bagged two goals and was a menace on the ball. Minnesota’s defense was practically helpless to stop him from creating and scoring.
Sebastian Blanco has also been terrorizing backlines in this tournament. He put a ball in the net in the semifinal matchup versus Philadelphia and has helped provide quality passes for Diego Valeri to put assists on a platter for Jeremy Ebobisse. Between these two, I would pick Nani for Orlando. There is a reason Orlando went to spend the money on him and it has shown in the tournament. He provides a quality that, even with Kaka in seasons past, Orlando has not had. His quality of service of balls into the box really makes him a game changer. Nani also allows for the pressure to be put on him and allow the opposite side of the field with Chris Mueller or Benji Michel to be open.
The next matchup I am looking at is the number nine’s. Jeremy Ebobisse vs Tesho Akindele. Ebobisse for Portland has been on the run of his life. He has scored in every match that he has played in for this tournament. He has found his form by building off his supporting midfield of Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco. He has found the net in every way you can with his head, left foot and right foot.
Akindele on the other hand has not hand the same success. He has only had one goal in the three matches he has played in but last season he did reach double digits for the first time in his career. He has a strong aerial presence and with his hold up play could allow for Chris Mueller and Nani to find the net themselves. The edge here goes to Ebobisse. He has become a staple for the Timbers attack and has allowed for himself to be available for service from the wings or to take a ball direct and use his speed to burn the backline of Orlando and add another goal to his tally this season.
The final matchup goes with the coaches, Oscar Pareja versus Giovanni Savarese. This is Pareja’s first season at the helm for Orlando City after a poor performance in previous seasons. Pareja has had what seems to be a magic touch on this Orlando club as they currently find themselves in third place in the east, one of their best starts in club history. Pareja has coached FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids in the MLS but has created his own success with both of those clubs guiding them to both clubs to the Western Conference Finals.
Savarese for Portland has had a couple seasons now to really dictate how this club operates and he too, finds his club in third place out west. Savarese has found success through his possession-based play along with building through the midfield. This matchup has to go to Savarese. While Portland may not have finished where they wanted to last season, this is a club ready to avenge themselves and show the grit they are truly made of. Pareja has had to adjust his tactics while Savarese has stuck to his guns and continues to get results.
My final prediction for this final match of the MLS is Back tournament is 2-1 Portland. I see Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse finding the net for Portland while Chris Mueller brings a consolation goal back for Orlando. Portland just has more of the talent on their side and I see the Orlando defense having a hard time dealing with the high-powered Portland attack. The match takes place tonight on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. EST or 5:30pm PST.