Thu, 24 Sep 2020

Lions, Loons meet in unexpected semifinal matchup

Field Level Media
06 Aug 2020, 08:55 GMT+10

Neither Orlando City nor Minnesota United were favored to reach the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament, but the underdogs will meet Thursday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando.

The winner plays either the Philadelphia Union or Portland Timbers on Tuesday for a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.

Orlando has been the bigger of the surprises under first-year coach Oscar Pareja. The Lions had the third-fewest points in Major League Soccer last season, but advanced out of the quarterfinals by defeating pre-tournament favorite Los Angeles FC on penalty kicks.

"We know that it's going to be a tough game," Orlando defender Antonio Carlos said of Minnesota. "They fight hard just like we do and they're a good opponent, but this has been great for our self-confidence so far.

"We're playing well and since the very beginning we said that we would do everything in our power to win this competition, and that's what we're doing."

Minnesota went 1-0-2 to finish second in Group D behind Sporting Kansas City, but upset undefeated Columbus on penalties in the Round of 16 and bested San Jose 4-1 in the quarterfinals.

Loons midfielder Jacori Hayes said the winning the tournament would be significant for Minnesota.

"It's putting this team on the map in the country and showing we're a real force in this league," he said.

The match has been dubbed the "Adrian Heath Derby" after the Minnesota coach. He coached Orlando City to two lower-tier titles before the franchise became an MLS expansion team in 2015 and he was fired midway through their second season.

He became coach of the expansion Loons in 2017.

"Orlando City will never be just another team for me," Heath said. "I spent too many years, too many hours to make it become what it was and what it became. And most of it started here at Disney. So, we've got great memories of this place."

--Field Level Media

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