The Portland Timbers will take on FC Cincinnati in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 in Orlando on Tuesday, July 28th, 2020 at 7:30pm PT.
Portland, the winners of Group F, are looking to extend their tournament hot streak after earning seven points from what was perceived to be one of the deepest groups in the tournament. Wins over the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo ensured progression to the knockout stage before another point was earned against league-dominators LAFC. It’s safe to say Giovanni Savarese’s side are looking confident heading into the knockout stage.
New head coach Jaap Stam has steered Cincinnati to a second-place finish in Group E despite losing 4-0 against in-state rivals Columbus in their opening group stage match. Unexpected wins against Atlanta United FC and New York Red Bulls ensured FCC’s advancement past the group stage in their last two matches. While these clean sheet wins may look impressive on paper, it’s worth noting that Atlanta and NYRB have been two of the most disappointing teams of the tournament. Credit to FCC for picking up the six points, but their play hasn’t exactly top notch.
Despite signing two high-caliber forwards (Jarosław Niezgoda and Felipe Mora) in the offseason, it’s been 23-year-old Jeremy Ebobisse producing goals for Portland in the MLSiBT so far. He is one of two players to score in all three of their team’s group stage matches (the other is Bradley Wright-Phillips).
Sebastián Blanco has also been an attacking threat for Portland. He is the only player in MLS to record an assist in all three group stage matches and scored the game-winning goal against the Galaxy in the first match.
Blanco and Diego Chará are the only Timbers field players to play every minute of the tournament (and season) so far. The elder Chará has been his usual productive self; chasing down 2.4 interceptions, 2.4 tackles, and 5.6 ground duels won per match this season. He’s also been Portland’s top passer, recording 48.4 accurate passes per game. Diego is the team leader in all four of these stats—as well as yellow cards (3).
Designated Player Yaya Kubo has been one of the few attacking bright spots for Cincinnati this season, leading the team in goals (2) and successful dribbles (2.2) so far. The 26-year-old Japanese attacker scored the opening goal for FCC against the Red Bulls last Wednesday.
Youngster Frankie Amaya scored the lone goal against Atlanta in Cincy’s second Group E match, and it was a beauty. Amaya has also been a key part of Stam’s defensive-minded midfield alongside Haris Medujanin and Caleb Stanko.
What a hit!
Frankie Amaya scores his first MLS goal to give FC Cincinnati the lead! pic.twitter.com/kGLNRsWE4P
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 16, 2020
Veteran MLS center back and Jamaican international Kendall Waston has been holding down Cincy’s back four as part of a deep block that invites possession without conceding space to their opponents. Waston has been a huge part of Cincy’s consecutive clean sheets, a phrase seldom heard throughout Cincinnati’s short MLS history.
What’s at Stake
With the group stage concluded, MLSiBT matches no longer count toward regular season point totals. Teams have 90 minutes to gain an advantage before going straight to penalty kicks if tied—no extra time. As of Monday night, we’ve only seen one match (Sporting Kansas City defeating Vancouver Whitecaps) go to penalties.
The winner will advance to the quarterfinals and play New York City FC, who defeated red-hot Toronto FC 3-1 Sunday night. The winner of that quarterfinal will play the winner of Philadelphia Union and Sporting KC and get one step closer to the prize money and Concacaf Champions League spot given to the tournament’s champion.
Portland are seeking revenge from the only previous meeting between these two sides: a 3-0 win by Cincy for their first MLS win ever. This was probably Portland’s low point last season, and it came in the midst of a dismal run of form to open the road-riddled season.
The Timbers are certainly the favored side after topping a tough group, while Cincinnati have struggled despite their progression to the knockout stage. Portland will likely control the bulk of the ball and occupy Cincinnati’s half as they look for openings in Jaap Stam’s disciplined low block. Cincy are expected to try and get forward when they can, but mostly stay reserved and make Portland bring the heat. If anyone is satisfied going into a penalty shootout in this one, it’s 100% Cincinnati.
Matches to Watch
Portland Timbers (-127) vs FC Cincinnati (+300)
Tuesday, July 28th, 2020 @ 7:30pm PT
Watch on ESPN
Philadelphia Union vs Sporting Kansas City
Thursday, July 30th, 2020 @ 5pm PT
Watch on ESPN
[all stats by sofascore.com]
[odds by sportsbettingdime.com]
[cover image by user GabboT via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)]