MLS Is Back

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MLS restart to include games played in home stadiums, with fans

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UPDATE: MLS commissioner Don Garber has since clarified that none of the league’s teams have been granted final permission from the league to host fans inside their stadiums, contrary to what press releases from three teams stated.

MLS restart: MLS announced on Saturday its intention and preliminary schedule for resuming the 2020 regular in its teams’ home markets — with fans in attendance in  stadiums where permitted — beginning with an Aug. 12 bout between FC Dallas and Nashville SC, a matchup of two teams forced to withdraw from the MLS is Back tournament due to a significant number of positive cases of COVID-19.

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Each team is expected to play 18 additional games, taking the total number of regular-season games played by each team to 23 in 2020. The regular season will wrap up on Nov. 8, assuming no further stoppages. 18 clubs will then qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs, leading up to MLS Cup on Dec. 12.

Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake have announced that they will welcome fans into their respective stadiums upon the restart of the season. Sporting KC will allow 14 percent (roughly 2,500) of the total capacity of Children’s Mercy Park, while Dallas announced that 5,110 (roughly 25 percent) will be allowed into Toyota Stadium and 5,000 (roughly 25 percent) at Rio Tinto Stadium.

From the league’s press release:

At this time, the majority of the matches in local markets will be played without fans in attendance. MLS and club leadership are working with local health authorities and government officials on a plan for limited capacity at certain games where allowed.

At this time, the league’s three Canadian teams — Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — do not have any games scheduled.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, MLS announced the initial phase of the league’s revised schedule with each U.S. club playing six matches against other U.S. teams by Sept. 14.
Major League Soccer continues to work with the league’s three Canadian clubs regarding plans to continue the regular season. More details on schedules for the Canadian teams will be announced in the near future.

MLS revealed that regular testing of players and staff for COVID-19 will continue during the resumed portion of the regular season, a protocol which proved effective with 24 of the 26 teams inside the bubble in Orlando, Fla.

As with the MLS is Back tournament, COVID-19 testing protocols will again play an important role in MLS’ competition framework. MLS continues to work closely with the league’s infectious disease advisors as well as advisors for the MLSPA on the plan for testing. All clubs are forming testing partnerships with a local certified lab, and all players, technical staff, and essential club staff will be tested every other day, including the day before each match day. Also, guidelines will be provided to players, coaches and essential staff to avoid the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 during their time away from club facilities.

Travel protocols will also be different for the remainder of 2020, with teams exclusively traveling via chartered flights, or buses. In most instances, teams will arrive the day of a game and return to their home market that night, aiming to limit time spent out of market.

MLS is Back: Orlando City advances to final on Nani brace (video)

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Nani scored a pair of first-half goals and Orlando City advanced to the MLS is Back tournament title match with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota United on Thursday night.

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Orlando will play the Portland Timbers, who defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in the other semifinal on Wednesday night, in the championship game on Tuesday.

Mason Toye pulled Minnesota within 2-1 with his first goal of the season in the 83rd minute, but the Lions withstood United’s attack down the stretch before Benji Michel’s goal late in stoppage time for the final margin.

“It was very satisfying for us because we worked the whole week just working as a team, making sure all the pieces were put together,” Michel said. “For us to be able to get the win was very, very good for us.”

Minnesota’s Chase Gasper had an early attempted that was pushed over the goal by Pedro Gallese. On the other end, Tesho Akindele’s chance off a cross from Ruan just barely sailed over the crossbar.

Nani gave Orlando the lead in the 36th minute, taking a long ball from Robin Jansson and shaking off defender Hassani Dotson before beating Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

Some seven minutes later, the Portuguese winger who played for Manchester United made it 2-0 with a goal from distance.

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There was some shoving between the two teams in the 73rd minute when Junior Urso’s foul resulted in a Minnesota free kick. Gallese came up big for the Lions, leaping to stop Raheem Edwards’ attempt.

“I thought we rushed everything,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said. “After the first 15 minutes, where we started the game really well, we needed an extra pass in the final third and we rushed it, we crossed it when there wasn’t anyone in the box. We made a lot of wrong choices in the final third tonight and that’s probably cost us dearly, I think.”

Heath was coach of Orlando City for four seasons before the team joined Major League Soccer in 2015. Heath led the Lions until July 2016, when he was fired.

Heath had not lost against his former club. The Lions are now led by Pareja.

Orlando finished 11th in the Eastern Conference last season with just nine wins.

“We have worked hard, and it has been, so far, difficult times for us. But the players just put all the excuses away, and then just kept going and going,” Pareja said. “And I think they’re happy. They’re playing with confidence and they accept each other and they understand this is day-by day. The guys who came from different countries, different clubs. They help us as well to gel.”

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Minnesota’s Romain Metanire and Kevin Molino both had hamstring injuries and were on the bench to start the game. United centerback Ike Opara – the reigning MLS Defender of the Year – did not join the team in Orlando because of a pre-existing condition.

Orlando’s Chris Mueller, whose arm in a sling after the team advanced on penalties following a scoreless draw against LAFC in the quarterfinals, was in the starting lineup.

Lions striker Dom Dwyer had surgery last week on his left knee as is expected to be out for up to six months.

The monthlong World Cup-style tournament has been played without fans at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World. Players have been sequestered at a pair of Disney resorts.

Preview: Philly v. Portland, Orlando v. MNUFC in MLS is Back semis

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Just as everyone no one expected, the Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Orlando City SC and Minnesota United are the four teams still standing at the MLS is Back tournament, with the semifinals set to kick off Wednesday night.

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Philadelphia Union – Portland Timbers

Wednesday, 8 pm ET, FS1

How they got here

Philadelphia: Finished 2nd (7 points) in Group A, beat New England in R16, beat Sporting KC in QF
Portland: Finished 1st (7 points) in Group F, beat Cincinnati in R16, beat NYCFC in QF

Goalkeeper Andre Blake has been one of, if not the, brightest stars at the MLS is Back tournament, and while he’s not singlehandedly responsible for Jim Curtin’s side reaching the semis, he’s certainly had player the largest singular role of anyone in the league. Per MLSsoccer.com, Blake has effectively wiped away 1 goal per game over the course of five games. Sure, that’s a pretty small sample size, but we have years of examples of Blake making superhuman saves between the sticks, and yet he’s gone to an entirely different level this month. The other (continued) breakout star for Philadelphia is 19-year-old — and soon-to-be Europe-bound — midfielder Brenden Aaronson, who torched Sporting KC with perhaps the Assist of the Tournament in the quarterfinals after previously tallying two more assists in the group stage.

As for Portland, it’s all about defensive solidity for Giovanni Savarese’s side. The only team to score multiple goals against them at the MLS is Back tournament was Los Angeles FC, in the final group game. They’re still a mostly counter-attacking team as in previous seasons under Savarese, which will require the Union to push numbers forward and open themselves up to the counter — something they’re naturally inclined to do based on evidence of the tournament thus far.

Prediction: Philadelphia 1-2 Portland

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Orlando City SC – Minnesota United

Thursday, 8 pm ET, ESPN2

How they got here

Orlando: Finished 1st in Group A, beat Montreal in R16, beat LAFC in QF
Minnesota: Finished 2nd in Group D, beat Columbus in R16, beat San Jose in QF

Whether or not there are more games played in 2020 following the MLS is Back tournament, Oscar Pareja has to have already locked up the Coach of the Year award, right? Orlando have been a downright embarrassment for five seasons in MLS, then Pareja walks through the door and by his third competitive game in charge, they look like one of the most complete and well-oiled teams in the league. It’s not supposed to be like this, Orlando aren’t supposed to be good competent. The Lions have struck a perfect balance between maintaining a solid defensive shape and playing some expansive, beautiful soccer. That’s the dream for every team in the world, isn’t it? But the fact it’s happening in — and by the team from — Orlando, Fla.? Still doesn’t sit right.

Speaking of teams with a chameleon identity this summer, Minnesota United have logged just about every kind of result imaginable at this tournament. Grind-it-out 0-0 draw? Check. Dramatic, come-from-behind victory with two goals in stoppage time? Check. Surviving a penalty shootout after arguably their worst performance of the tournament? Check. Completely overwhelming and suffocating one of the tournament’s standout sides? Check. Adrian Heath’s side has typically been known for defending and timely set-piece acuity, but their total destruction of the San Jose Earthquakes in the quarterfinals was arguably the most impressive performance and result we’ve seen in Orlando.

Prediction: Orlando 0-1 Minnesota

MLS is Back semifinals set: Portland, Minnesota prevail (video)

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Diego Valeri and Andy Polo came on in the second half to score key goals as the Portland Timbers defeated New York City FC 3-1 on Saturday night in the final quarterfinal match of the MLS is Back tournament.

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Sebastian Blanco also scored for the Timbers, who will face the Philadelphia Union in a Wednesday semifinal. The winner will face Minnesota United or Orlando City in the championship game on Aug. 11.

Jesus Medina had NYCFC’s lone goal on a penalty kick in the first half.

[ MORE: MLS is Back schedule ]

Valeri didn’t start for the second time in five tournament games. The midfielder came on at the beginning of the second half and put the Timbers in the lead in the 65th minute when he split two NYCFC defenders off a pass by Jaroslaw Niezgoda and drilled a right footer that beat goalkeeper Sean Johnson for his second game-winning goal of the tournament.

Polo scored in the 76th minute, shortly after he entered the game. The midfielder lofted a beautiful shot from just outside the box that found its way into the top far corner.

NYCFC scored first in the 27th minute on Medina’s penalty kick after Portland’s Larrys Mabiala fouled Medina inside the box. The Timbers evened it 16 minutes later when Blanco intercepted a clearing pass and curled a shot into the net. NYCFC had a 10-9 advantage in shots. Johnson and Steve Clark each had two saves.


As for the other quarterfinal on Saturday, Robin Lod had a goal and an assist, Hassani Dotson had two assists and Minnesota United advanced in the MLS is Back tournament with a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

Lod and Jacori Hayes scored first-half goals 90 seconds apart to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead at halftime. Magnus Eriksson helped the Earthquakes get within a goal early in the second half on a penalty kick before Minnesota’s Luis Amarilla and Marlon Hairston scored to put it out of reach.

Minnesota United will face Orlando in Thursday’s semifinal, with the winner advancing to the championship game on Aug. 11.

Lod put Minnesota United on the board in the 20th minute when he had an open shot after San Jose goalkeeper Daniel Vega was caught out of position. Hayes quickly put the Loons up by two in the 21st minute when he put in a rebound after Vega deflected Hassani Dotson’s shot.

San Jose was awarded a penalty kick after a video review when it was determined that Hayes committed a hand ball inside the box. Eriksson converted on the penalty with his third goal of the tournament in the 50th minute.

Amarilla put Minnesota back up by two six minutes later with a left-footed finish just past the near post. Hairston closed the scoring in the 86th minute after getting a crossing pass from Dotson.

Minnesota United has won four straight against San Jose, outscoring them 15-4.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sport

Preview: LAFC favorites to reach MLS is Back semis; who joins them?

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Who will join the Philadelphia Union, who dismantled Sporting Kansas City in the first of four quarterfinal matchups on Thursday, in the semifinals of the MLS is Back tournament?

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Orlando City SC v. Los Angeles FC — Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET

While it’s impossible to say with absolute certainty ahead of the weekend’s games, at least one clear favorite stands head and shoulders above the other six remaining sides: reigning Supporters’ Shield winners, LAFC — yes, even without reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela who opted out of the tournament to remain with his pregnant and to be present for the birth of their child.

After a bumpy start to the group stage, LAFC thrashed rivals LA Galaxy in group game no. 2; it was more of the same against reigning MLS Cup winners Seattle Sounders in the round of 16 — arguably the two most impressive performances of the tournament thus far. Diego Rossi has been happy to step in and shoulder the goal-scoring load with seven goals in four games — paving the way for rumors-a-plenty about European transfer interest — along with Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored a goal in each of the three group games.

As for Friday’s opponent and the surprise performers of the tournament thus far, Orlando City, under the guidance of newly installed head coach Oscar Pareja, are enjoying what is easily their best run of results since joining MLS in 2015, making this the most intriguing clash of the quarterfinals.

San Jose Earthquake v. Minnesota United — Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Speaking of massively improved sides under a new head coach, Matias Almeyda got San Jose playing some high-quality soccer for much of 2019 before the wheels fell off late in the season. Almeyda is back for a second season in the Bay Area, and the ‘Quakes look to have gone to another level under the Argentine’s guidance. Winger Cristian Espinoza was a particularly bright spot last season and has only picked up where he left off with two goals and an assist in Orlando already. With Espinoza opposite Vako on the other side of the field, San Jose are getting significant contributions from the wings, which is a welcome change of pace after years of having to rely too heavily upon Chris Wondolowski and only Wondo.

With all of that said, Minnesota should prove to be a particularly tough matchup, given the degree to which they limit teams’ chances. Adrian Heath loves to play the “nobody believes in us, everybody thinks we’re terrible” card, but the rest of the league has taken notice of the Loons, who are yet to lose in this tournament. Having taken down early-days darlings Columbus Crew SC, the only side to win all three of their group games, in the round of 16 will ensure that Minnesota are no longer able to fly under anyone’s radar.

New York City FC v. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The final game of the weekend is just as intriguing as the first two, but for a different reason. NYCFC and Portland have each mucked and yucked their respective paths to the quarterfinals without ever once looking overly dominant or… good. NYCFC advanced from the group stage as third-place finishers with just three points, and though Portland won their group and finished ahead of LAFC, they never looked convincing — a pair of 2-1 victories over the Galaxy and Houston Dynamo is hardly something to brag about.

So, now they face one another — a near-mirror image of themselves, both in terms of their respective paths to this point and a very familiar tactical approach. Though each side has plenty of South American attacking talent, Ronny Deila and Giovanni Savarese have each favored a low-block defensive approach and hung their hopes on creating scoring chances on the counter. So, Sunday’s late game presents us with the age-old question: what happens when two teams who sit back and wait for their opponents to attack play one another? The result, as is often the case, could be a rather difficult watch.