By: Christopher Smith & Rex Eastwood
The MLS Round of 16 has shown which teams were better and others as just a flash in the pan. Just like the 2019 MLS Playoff, Rex and I will be breaking down each match and letting you know who we think will be advancing onto the next round of the knockout stage. Over three days of playoff-style soccer, the top eight teams will be battling it out for a chance at the prize money and a slot in the CONCACAF Champions League next year.
Philadelphia Union VS Sporting KC – July 30th
The first match of the second round of knockouts pits the Philadelphia Union against Sporting Kansas City. Last match the Union took down the Revolution with a final of 1-0. Once again, the Union allowed more shots against them than they were able to shoot. This doesn’t bode well when faced against a high pressing attack, such as the one by Sporting. Though Sporting was able to move on in the tournament, it took them going to penalty kicks against a pathetic Vancouver Whitecaps side. What’s even more pathetic than the Whitecaps? The fact that Kansas City took 37 shots all match with only eight on goal. This SKC attack can be high pressing but if a team takes that many shots and doesn’t make a goal something is wrong. This should be a high flying game and I think that the Union are the better side all around, but don’t be surprised that Sporting comes after them in this one.
Chris’s Pick: The pick: Philadelphia Union 2-1
Rex’s Pick: Union 1-0
In what can be considered a coin flip match, the Union sit as heavy underdogs (+265). Is another low scoring match in the Union’s future? SKC has not allowed a goal over their prior two matches while the Union finally won their first xG matchup but by a minimal margin. Since Sergio Santos has entered Philly’s starting XI, Philly’s offense has been more consistent throughout the match in Orlando. This allows Ilsinho to play his role as super-sub and take advantage of the tired legs.
However, the Union do not have a dominant finisher yet this season with seven players netting one a piece. On the flip side, SKC have two top notch finishers in Alan Pulido and Khiry Shelton with three each and Pulido has four assists as well. Containing Pulido is no easy task and as the lone striker, each of the Union’s back four will need to defend him throughout the match. The combination of Gaddis, Elliot, McKenzie and Wagner have looked solid but Andre Blake in net has been the key. If he keeps performing at this level, the Union will advance.
As a Sons of Ben member, I have to roll with my heart and the Union even though my brain is saying they’re due to regress and Pulido will be the Man of the Match.
Orlando City SC VS LAFC – July 31st
Orlando is coming off of a tough outing against Montreal where they won 1-0. Orlando has had such a good tournament that I hate to pick against them but I have to go with LAFC in this matchup. While Orlando has done enough to put their opponents away, LAFC has dominated most of their opponents in this tournament. LAFC routed the reigning champs, Seattle Sounders, to the tune of 4-1. While Seattle’s offense hasn’t been the best this tournament, their defense has been pretty good. I have to roll with a red hot attacking side against the overachieving home team. Give me LAFC with a comfortable two goal lead after 90 minutes.
Chris’s Pick: LAFC 3-1
Rex’s Pick: Orlando City 3-2 after PKs
Well, I’m finally jumping on the Orlando hype train very late. The convincing performance against Montreal shows that the group stage was not a flash in a pan. Their defense has vastly improved and Pedro Gallese is worth the designated player money for a keeper. At the fullbacks, Ruan and Moutinho consistently lead or join in on the attack which has created vastly more chances while not getting caught out of position. However, LAFC with their wingers can capitalize if they get the slightest out of position though which worries me.
For Orlando to stay in this match, they will need to need to work through their midfield and keep the pressure on LAFC’s backline. They are the only part holding this team back from being the top of the MLS. While their offense hasn’t missed a beat without Vela, they are hurting without Walker Zimmerman. Opposing sides are creating too many vulnerable chances and are getting bailed out by the prolific offense scoring at will. This match should see both teams score easily but I think it’ll be tied after the ninety minutes. In PKs, I am backing Gallese to bring the “home” team to the semis.
San Jose VS Minnesota United – August 1st
While I did not expect the Crew to drop out of the tournament, I’m not totally upset that they lost to Minnesota. Minnesota has performed better than expected and is rising up the power rankings of MLS. When these two teams face each other goals tend to come in bunches. In the last six meetings between these two sides, there have been no less than three goals scored in the match. Like the last six matches, this match is a toss-up. Minnesota has adopted an underdog mentality and has done enough to topple each of their opponents but I don’t think it will be enough to topple the Quakes. When the whistle blows to start the match, San Jose will have almost a week’s worth of rest and will look to come out with their foot on the gas. It will be a close game but I think a rested attacking squad will get it done to move onto the next round.
Chris’s Pick: San Jose Earthquakes 2-1
Rex’s Pick: Minnesota 2-0
The oddsmakers have the Earthquakes as favorites and once again in a Minnesota match, I think they have the wrong side favored. This Loons squad is continually being slept on. The Loons are facing another attacking minded club that have multiple threats to finish. Minnesota’s previous match should have not gone to extra time due to a careless penalty from Aja. Even though Columbus dominated possession, Minnesota seemed to control the match defensively.
San Jose is playing a team that deploys a similar style to their prior opponent. Like RSL, the Loons rely on their defense but possess better quality of finishers up top. RSL highlighted how to get in behind the backline and Adrian Heath took note of it. Until the Earthquakes clean up the simple mistakes that lead them to concede, their ceiling is capped. The extra help from RSL might not be needed as the previous three head to head matchups have seen Minnesota score 11 goals and three wins. I’m backing the better coach and talent to advance the semis.
NYCFC VS Portland Timbers – August 1st
NYCFC finally decided to show up for the tournament last time out against my favorite to win, Toronto FC. On both sides of the field, NYCFC dominated and made Toronto look like a college team. Can this team have it together against the Timbers? Giovanni Savarese will have his team ready for a fight during this match. While they drew against FC Cincinnati, I don’t think this is the same Cincinnati team. While they aren’t good, they appear to be able to hold their own against the best of MLS. I’m going to go with an experienced Portland side because I am not so sure that the NYCFC players have bought into their new system and they played hard out of pride. Look for Sebastian Blanco to score the late winning goal in what will be a back and forth match. It’s also worth noting that NYCFC has only won once against Portland in the regular season. While this is a knockout match, NYCFC can choke in these types of games. This will be the match of the weekend to watch as it will be one of the most entertaining matches of the tournament.
Chris’s Pick: Portland Timbers 2-1
Rex’s Pick: NYCFC 3-1
The talent on NYCFC’s roster finally erupted during the trashing of Toronto. It seemed like it was only a matter of time until a squad of this caliber figured it out. The depth of NYCFC will help them prevail over the Timbers. When you can bring Maxi Moralez, Heber and Keaton Parks off the bench, who are usual starters, the fresh legs have proven to be a difference in Orlando.
Portland has been creating the majority of the chances off crosses, so NYCFC’s backline will need to be clinical in winning the 50/50 ball. Next, they’ll need to possess and move the ball up the pitch. Portland will press them if they lose the 50/50 to attempt to create an easy chance on goal. Finding, Ring and Sands in the defensive mids will be key for this progression. Even though the Timbers are yet to lose in Orlando, they’ve let the opposing squad find the back of the net in each. FC Cincy hung tough with them and I believe NYCFC can execute a better game plan than them to advance.
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