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Quarterfinal Recap and Semifinal Preview

Written By: Nick Holmberg @BurgundyBoys96 Hello fellow soccer fans! Hope you got to catch the quarterfinal doubleheader last night between Minnesota United and the San Jose Quakes in game one and the Portland Timbers and NYCFC in game two. There was no shortage of entertainment as we saw great goals and attacking play with some incredible saves, reminding us that we can escape our reality of a pandemic and feel the excitement of the sport again. The Loons started the match strong, getting a sniff at goal through a rebound that fell to Finlay 10 minutes in, but the shot was saved. They were awarded a corner kick 19 minutes into the match where the Quakes’ clearance wasn’t good enough, leading Dotson to create another opportunity, crossing the ball to the back post where it was headed cross-goal for an easy finish for Lod. Less than a minute later, Jacori Hayes tapped home a rebound as Daniel Vega coughed up a save he should have made for the Quakes, making it 2-0 in the 21st minute. Exactly the way Minnesota dreamed it up, their early lead created an open midfield where the Quakes couldn’t retain possession, losing almost every 50/50 ball in the first half. Minnesota looked compact defensively, ensuring that they did not leave any space between the lines, which left San Jose stifled in the attack. However, early in the second half the Quakes pulled one back through an Eriksson penalty kick. Another seemingly soft penalty called in this tournament, this time on the goal scorer Hayes. Down one in the 50th minute, the Quakes gave more life to the match. A mere six minutes later, the Minnesota striker Amarilla netted a great near post shot on a fast break to make it 3-1 in the 56th. For the Colorado fans out there, we were treated to former Rapid and fan favorite Marlon Hairston not only subbing on but also getting into the attack and slotting home a goal. Looking like a striker, he positioned himself well and sealed the match for the Loons in the 86th minute. Final score 4-1 as Minnesota United march on. A very interesting matchup in the semifinal between Minnesota United and Orlando where we can expect an open, attacking approach from both teams. With Adrian Heath at Minnesota’s helm, I expect a solid game plan and execution on the field as he’s really helped develop this club. They look very organized as a team, countering when their opponents are weak and maintaining a good defensive shape. The transition from defense to attack has been impressive this tournament, which can really separate the good teams from the best. Minnesota will likely press high to start the match, so it will be interesting to see if they are able to capitalize on this strategy or if they open themselves up to a counter. On the other hand if Orlando gets an early goal, it puts the Loons in a position they haven’t been in this tournament – trailing. It is very likely that the winner will be the team who takes chances. The unsung hero for the Orlando faithful is their keeper, Gallese, who is capable of the unbelievable and keeping their team in the game. Pareja is doing a fantastic job coaching Orlando who are easily one of the fittest teams in this tournament, culminating as true underdogs who are pulling the pieces together at the right time. Fans deserve to be as passionate as I recall their energy at their first match with 62,500 cheering and singing loudly at the Citrus Bowl, and they are displaying their continued pride in full force through fireworks and tailgating after this last tournament match. Well done. Switching gears to the late match last night, we saw NYCFC gifted a very soft penalty in the 27th minute to go up 1–0 early against the Timbers. This penalty was reviewed, and incredibly the call stood, furthering the general public’s frustration with VAR. Portland dominated possession afterwards as they slowly took over the game. Just before halftime, Blanco orchestrated a beautiful buildup, finding a teammate out wide whose cross deflected and fell back to Blanco’s feet inside the box. Immediately turning his hips with a very quick release, Blanco’s shot was an absolutely sublime, clinical finish, and he made it look easy, curling the ball around a defender to the far post. His beautiful goal leveled it 1-1 at the half but not before NYCFC responded with a pair of yellow cards, clearly frustrated to see the game slipping away. Valeri entered the match as a sub at halftime and changed the game. In the 64th minute another great buildup saw Diego Valeri create enough space to get a shot off in the box with a great finish into the bottom corner, making it 2–1. The cherry on top came during the third goal as Andy Polo came charging in from the left wing on a counterattack, cutting inside toward the goal, and hitting a powerful bending shot into the far post, top corner from nearly 30 yards out. GOLAZO!!! I literally stood up in my living room and clapped for that shot while Timbers players swarmed Polo who continued to dance in celebration. In the end, the Timbers looked like the better team and well deserving of the win. Coming from behind Portland pulled off a 3–1 win, sending them to a semifinal matchup against favorites, Philadelphia Union. Next game between the Union and the Timbers has a lot of rightful buzz as it goes without saying that both teams are in good form and capable of winning. So what are the difference makers in this matchup? One is the Jamaican keeper on the Union, who is arguably the single best player in this tournament and makes the defense around him better. Andre Blake is building a strong case for MLS Is Back MVP as he is a fantastic shot stopper who always seems to come up clutch for the Philly faithful. I’m not convinced that Portland’s defense is on par with the Union’s. Both teams have a solid attack but will the defense be the key? One could argue Philly is a better, deeper team, but if you’ve been paying attention in the MLS, you already know you cannot count Portland out – they seemingly always go deep in tournaments and win trophies. Diego Valeri off the bench for Portland is admittedly a scary prospect for any team to face, and Blanco has shown he is one of the best players in the league, performing at a high level consistently. The second difference maker in this semifinal is the playmaker for the Union, Brenden Aaronson. For US National team fans, they will be watching the American youngster as he is developing into one of the best prospects in MLS. Coming off his last match with a filthy assist – a shoulder feint, slipping between two defenders before slicing a through ball between two more defenders – shows his capability of playing at the next level. The Medford, NJ native has had scouts and top officials from all around Europe (including Juventus, Milan, Frankfurt, Anderlecht, Celtic, and other clubs) keeping their tabs on him throughout this tournament. While we hope it is not the last of him we’ll see in the MLS, I also fully support and want to see this young talent develop even if it requires a move overseas. Philly should hope to capitalize further on what this 19-year-old brings to their team, offering more assists and creating beauty on the field before his talent takes him on to the next club. Semifinals are coming up quick! Who’s going to the final to take the glory? Stay tuned, and until then, stay safe soccer fans! Philadelphia Union vs. Portland Timbers August 5th at 8pm EST on FS1 and UniMas Orlando City vs. Minnesota United August 6th at 8pm EST on ESPN2 MLS is Back Final August 11th at 8pm EST on ESPN

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