MLS is Back Preview: Orlando City locked-in on winning championship against Portland Timbers


Heading into Tuesday’s MLS is Back Tournament final (ESPN/Deportes at 8:30 p.m.), there have been some statistical similarities between both finalists, Orlando City and the Portland Timbers.

On one side, Oscar Pareja’s Lions have 11 goals scored during their run in MLS’s return-to-play competition, while on the defensive front only allowing five.

There isn’t much of a difference with the Timbers, led by Giovanni Savarese, having scored 12 times while allowing seven goals.

The margin of comparison between both teams gets much smaller when comparing goals scored in the first half throughout this tournament — Orlando with two and Portland with three.

With Tuesday’s championship match a battle of closely comparable sides, Pareja is confident his team will deploy a winning product against the Timbers.

“We must continue with the will of having the initiative in the game, to put forward the game from the start,” Pareja said in Spanish during Monday’s press call. “It’s a final, and in the finals only the best compete. I’m sure Portland will have an important part, which we will respect, but without a doubt our directions to our players are always going to be the same. We believe they have the initiative.”

“We aren’t going to speculate and we’re going to present a team that wants to win.”

The Lions advanced to the final after defeating Minnesota United, 3-1, last Friday in the semifinals.

Nani and Chris Mueller led the team with three goals scored, respectively, throughout the group stage and knockout rounds.

The winner of Tuesday’s match not only wins $1.1 million in prize money, but a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.

Both prizes are incentives enough to win the MLS is Back tournament, but more-so, it is an opportunity for Orlando to win its first MLS-era trophy since its minor league days when it won the 2013 USL Pro championship.

“I think that the team is obviously high on confidence right now, we feel like we’re building and continuing to improve as the games go on here and we’re continuing to get good results as we move through the knockout rounds,” said Mueller.

“I think that looking forward to tomorrow’s game, I think that we’re extremely excited about the opportunity,” he added. “I think that this is going to be a great matchup, [and] I think that it’s really exciting that we have an opportunity to bring a trophy to Orlando and we’re looking forward to taking that chance tomorrow night.”

The Lions are currently six games unbeaten heading into Tuesday’s match against Portland.

For Pareja and his side, they will go into the game with the same mentality they have had since the tournament started, over one month ago.

“The mindset for the players right now is very natural,” said Pareja. “It’s something that makes me feel better, because they have been facing this tournament with a lot of responsibility. Each game has created its own demands and now we face the final. Obviously there is more pressure and anxiousness from people, but the group is good, they know what they’re doing, they know where they’re going and this game we’re going to face with the same responsibility as the others.”

Champions League aspirations 

For Orlando City, the potential of a CONCACAF Champions League berth looms large for the club.

Pareja last competed in the regional tournament in 2017, leading FC Dallas to the semifinals of the tournament.

Should Orlando win the MLS is Back Tournament final on Tuesday, the Lions would secure their first appearance in Champions League in club history and the first ever Florida team to appear in the tournament.

“It would be great. Always representing the club internationally is very important and relevant for the club,” said Pareja. “We are very excited to live this opportunity. At the moment, to bring Orlando City to the final of MLS and also still have the opportunity to win that right of participation in such a great tournament internationally. This will brand our club and obviously, it gives us the opportunity to showcase players and put Orlando in a more noticeable place and that is very important for us.” 

For more soccer news, follow the Orlando Soccer Journal on Twitter: @OSJSoccer

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