One team is fresh off a dramatic win that will go down in MLS history. The other is coming off what is surely to be one of this year’s biggest upsets.
Put the two together in a one-off postseason match, throw in their seasoned head coaches and magical attackers, and there should be plenty of fireworks.
Orlando City and the New England Revolution are set to lock horns in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday afternoon in a game at Exploria Stadium in Central Florida that pits two sides coming off vastly different playoff wins.
The Lions survived the last round via a dramatic and wild penalty shootout vs. New York City FC that has etched itself into MLS folklore because it saw centerback Rodrigo Schlegel make a decisive stop as a stand-in goalkeeper. The Revolution, conversely, posted a sound 2-0 road victory over Supporters’ Shield winners and MLS Cup favorites, the Philadelphia Union, after recording a last-gasp win vs. the Montreal Impact in the preceding play-in affair.
Their paths to this encounter may have been pretty distinct, but the teams have similarities. Both boast proven MLS managers with defined styles as well as talented stars like Nani and Carles Gil that should make this one as entertaining as it should be intense.
Here is a closer look at this Eastern Conference semifinal:
This meeting will mark the first time these two teams face one another in 2020. They squared off twice last season, with the Revolution beating a much different Lions side by a 4-1 mark at home before battling to a 3-3 draw in Orlando.
Players to Watch
The experienced Portuguese attacker knows how to deliver in big games and moments, which is what he will be counted on to do here be it as a goal-scorer or playmaker. The good news for Orlando City is that the veteran should be coming into this one with a fair bit of confidence after tallying in the last round against New York City FC.
Directly involved in three of his team’s four playoff goals, Gil is heading into this one on a bit of a hot streak. The Spaniard has both found the net and set up teammates, and that ability to threaten and break open defenses in a variety of ways is what the Revolution will need in order to have a good chance at pulling off another upset.
Matchup to Watch
JUNIOR URSO VS. GUSTAVO BOU
A mouth-watering battle. Bou has been almost as productive as Gil in the Revolution’s first two postseason games, but he will have to see plenty of talented and tough Orlando City midfielder Junior Urso. Winning this individual duel in the center of the park could very well determine the outcome of the game, or at the very least play a significant role in how the teams perform.
The rookie striker has been a handful for opposing defenses all season, and has plenty of tools that could see him turn in a big-time performance. He will have to make up for his inexperience and be clinical in front of the net, of course, but his combination of size, strength, and nose for goal should be more than enough to make an impact.
Keeping a zero at the back would go a long way in helping the Revolution here, which is why Turner could be decisive. He had a relatively easy night at the office in the last round, but it is unlikely he goes largely untested again given the opposition he will be facing. If Turner can be as good as he was for much of his standout season, his team will have a strong chance.
Orlando City is at home and will be playing in front of some fans, but how the Lions respond after such an emotional rollercoaster in the previous round will be key. What’s more, they will have to make up for the notable losses of suspended starting duo Ruan and Pedro Gallese, each of whom was ejected last time out.
The Revolution, meanwhile, are expected to be at full strength and will be led by dangerous, in-form attackers Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil. The two players have turned in decisive performances thus far and will again be tasked with creating both chances for themselves and teammates in what may prove to be a fairly open affair.
A decisive factor in this game could be coaching, though. Both Lions boss Oscar Pareja and Revolution manager Bruce Arena have ample experience in the playoffs, but coming up with a sound tactical game plan that capitalizes on their players’ relative unfamiliarity would boost their respective side’s odds of moving one step closer to MLS glory.
Ultimately, though, it will probably be the stars that determine the outcome of this one. Orlando City will need Nani to have a big day in order to make those around him better in the attack, while the Revolution will look to Bou and/or Gil to lift them to another surprise road victory.