Orlando City and New England Revolution will battle it out for a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference final on Sunday night at 8pm (UK time).
After finishing fourth in the East and qualifying for the post-season for the first time in their history, Orlando made it past New York City FC in the first round, winning 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in what is likely the most dramatic and head-scratching shootout of all time.
There were 21 minutes which separated the first and last spot-kicks in a shootout which included a red card for Orlando ‘keeper Pedro Gallese; referee Allen Chapman seeming to forget the rules on substitutions during a shootout and how sudden death works; Nani missing his penalty; and outfielder Rodrigo Schlegel pulling off some heroics between the sticks. And that is barely even scratching the surface.
The Revs, meanwhile, have taken a very different path to the Eastern Conference semi-finals. After finishing eighth during the regular season. Bruce Arena’s men were forced to contest a play-in round with Montreal Impact, beating Thierry Henry’s men 2-1 in dramatic fashion as Gustavo Bou netted a 95th-minute winner.
That came before a much more routine but arguably far more impressive 2-0 away win over Supporters’ Shield winners Philadelphia Union in the first round, with goals from Adam Buksa and Tajon Buchanan in the opening half-hour, enough to send the regular-season champions packing.
So, will Oscar Pareja’s Lions keep their best-ever MLS season going, or will the experience of Arena once again win out in the Playoffs?
Where to watch Orlando City vs New England Revolution on TV:
- UK: Sky Sports Football
- US: ABC
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Orlando City & New England Revolution’s previous line-ups:
- Orlando City (vs NYCFC): Gallese*; Ruan*, Carlos, Jansson, Smith; Mueller, Urso, Rosell, Pereyra; Dike, Nani.
- NE Revs (vs Philadelphia Union): Turner; Buchanan, Farrell, Kessler, Jones; Polster, Caldwell; Gil, Bou, Bunbury; Buksa.
Dom Dwyer and Joao Moutinho remain sidelined with injury, while Gallese and Ruan are suspended following their red cards against NYCFC last time out.
Influential full-back Brandon Bye is still struggling with a hamstring injury but Buchanan put in a strong performance in his place against the Union, so will likely continue from the start. Cristian Penilla is out as he’s still recovering from surgery on a metatarsal injury, while Luis Caicedo is sidelined with a knee problem.
Players to watch:
Nani might be the headline-maker for Orlando but the Lions’ most impressive attacking piece this season has undoubtedly been Daryl Dike. The 20-year-old was playing for college side Virginia Cavaliers as recently as 2019 but since being picked up by Orlando in the January 2020 SuperDraft, he’s gone from strength to strength. Dike told the Extra Time podcast recently that he models his game on those of Didier Drogba and Romelu Lukaku and that is evident when watching him out on the field. Dike uses his superhuman strength to hold off and bully opposition centre-backs, while he’s incredibly dominant in the air. However, he’s also deceptively quick for his size, able to explode across the first five yards of a sprint. And once he’s got himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, the outcome is sealed — Dike managed eight goals and three assists across 17 regular-season matches, a handsome total for an MLS rookie. The Revs’ defence will have to be at their very best to keep a lid on Dike on Sunday.
New England Revolution
The Revs may have limped their way to the Playoffs but there’s no doubting the return of Carles Gil from injury has made them a serious threat in the post-season. The 2019 MLS Newcomer of the Year notched 11 goals and 14 assists across 35 appearances last season, but was restricted to just six appearances during the 2020 regular season. Even so, Gil managed two assists, while he opened the scoring against Montreal in the play-in round and assisted both goals during the 2-0 win over the Union last time out — the former Aston Villa man even hit the woodwork himself, coming incredibly close to capping off a superb performance. Gil’s technical prowess is there for all to see but even more impressive is his in-game intelligence. The Spaniard controls the tempo brilliantly for Arena’s side, getting the Revs forward quickly when there’s a chance of a break and slowing things down when they need to restore some calm. Gil will look to operate between Orlando’s defensive and midfield lines on Sunday evening and it’s up to Pareja to find a way of nullifying his considerable threat.
Scoreline prediction: Orlando City 3-2 New England Revolution
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