Tonight, Orlando City SC has the chance to do something that it has never done: win a trophy. The Lions can win the MLS is Back Tournament in their backyard.
Orlando takes the pitch against the Portland Timbers at 8:30 p.m. While the Timbers were a favorite in the tournament, few predicted the Lions to reach the championship.
Orlando City: a fitting Cinderella
None of the eight quarterfinal teams started with worse odds to win the tournament than Orlando. The Lions embraced their underdog role.
Before reaching the final, Orlando defeated the Montreal Impact, LAFC and Minnesota United. Orlando’s thrilling victory in penalties against another tournament favorite in LAFC was especially surprising.
The Lions failed to reach the playoffs during its first five seasons. However, manager Oscar Pareja has the Lions firing on all cylinders in his first season in charge.
Pareja has induced improvement up and down the pitch. Nani and Chris Mueller have three goals apiece. The former scored a beautiful brace against Minnesota.
Outside-backs Ruan and Joao Moutinho push forward and contribute to Orlando’s surging attack. Mauricio Pereyra uses his creativity to boost the offense. Meanwhile, the defense is solid but could be vulnerable to counterattacks against Portland.
Portland still unbeaten since restart
The Timbers are no strangers to the big stage. They won the MLS Cup in 2015 and was the runner-up in 2018. Manager Giovanni Savarese has Portland in its third cup final in six years.
Portland hopes to stay hot. Since week two of the MLS season, the Timbers have not lost a game. On their way to the final, they took down FC Cincinnati, New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union. New York City and Philadelphia each played Orlando City in the group stage.
Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse are gleaming bright spots in Portland. Ebobisse has four goals in six tournament games. Blanco scored or assisted on eight of the Timbers’ 12 tournament goals.
Orlando needs to contain Blanco, Ebobisse and Diego Valeri to pull off the upset. On the other hand, Portland must take away Nani and Mueller to win another trophy.