MLS is Back
More than four months after they last played, the Portland Timbers are slated to be back in action on Monday, July 13.
Instead of a rollicking Providence Park, the Timbers and 25 other Major League Soccer teams are spending their summer isolated in Orlando, Florida, for the MLS is Back Tournament.
That's assuming COVID-19 doesn't win. FC Dallas was removed from the tournament this week because 10 players and one techincal staff member tested positive following the team's arrival in Florida. Several impactful players, including LAFC's Carlos Vela and Vancouver's Fredy Montero, are skipping the tournament.
Tournament details — The MLS is Back Tournament is like a mini-World Cup, taking place July 8 through Aug. 11 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. The Timbers arrived July 3.
Each team will play three group-stage games, which will count toward the 2020 MLS regular season. The league hopes to resume a regular season following this event.
The top two teams from each of the six groups and the four best third-place teams advance to the round-of-16 knockout phase (July 25-28). The quarterfinals are July 30-Aug. 1, the semifinals are Aug. 5-6 and the championship match is Aug. 11.
Kicking it off — Orlando City and expansion Inter Miami play the opening match at 5 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN), the first meeting in what figures to become a Florida rivalry. A second Wednesday match, between Chicago and Nashville, has been postponed. Five Nashville players have tested positive, putting the club's dtatus for the tournament in doubt.
How to watch — All games will be live on ESPN networks, Fox Sports networks, or on TUDN.
At stake — The champion will earn a spot in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League and there is a $1.1 million in prize pool for the tournament.
In the bubble — The Timbers flew to Florida on July 3 and have been sequestered on their hotel floor except for practices. The floor includes some entertainment options, including video games and a ping-pong table. Coach Giovanni Savarese said the top prioity is health and he and his staff continue to remind players to "be mature" and to follow protocol for their safety and that of their teammates. ... To help give players peach of mind, the club is assisting their families in Portland by providing services when needed, such as meals, nannies and transportation.
Who's favored? — Los Angeles FC, at 5-to-1, is the consensus betting favorite among sports books. At 20-to-1, Portland has the ninth-best odds of winning the tournament. But the Timbers are in arguably the toughest group for the preliminary stage.
The Timbers played two home games before the 2020 season was shut down, losing 3-1 to Minnesota and beating Nashville 1-0.
Timbers schedule — Monday, July 13, vs. LA Galaxy, 7:30 p.m. PT, FS1; Saturday, July 18, vs. Houston, 5 p.m., ESPN2; Thursday, July 23, vs. Los Angeles FC, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2.
Roster update — Right back Jorge Moreira returned to his Argentine club when his loan expired. The Timbers signed Venezuelan defender Pablo Bonilla off of T2's roster to provide depth at right back. … Forward Dairon Asprilla had knee surgery and is not available for the tournament. … Midfielder Andres Flores is not with the team because of the death of his father. It is uncertain if he will join the club during the tournament. ... Forward Felipe Mora (hamstring) and defender Julio Cascante (back) might miss Monday's opener. At last report, the rest of the roster was healthy, including players on the injury list in March, giving Savarese plenty of options to employ.
Timbers questions — How much of an impact will forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda make? Acquired as a designated player, the 25-year-old Polish striker will be counted upon to produce goals. He missed the first two matches, so will make his Timbers' debut in Florida. Savarese said Niezgoda's quality is evident in training. The focus has been on building Niezgoda's confidence and fitness ahead of this tournament.
What about right back? In Moreira, the Timbers had one of the better right backs, at least in terms of attacking. Now the job figures fall to Chris Duvall or Bonilla, with Bill Tuiloma a possible option.
What about cohesion? It's hard to predict how well the Timbers will fit together. They had moments of promise, but scored only once from the run of play in their first two games. That was way back in March, so it's wrong to read a lot into those results. Still, Portland will need newcomers such as Yimmi Chara, Niezgoda and/or Mora to produce along with go-to guys Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.
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