Match previews / Union

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs Portland Timbers

Photo: Rob Simmons

Who: Philadelphia Union (2020: 2-1-2, 8 points, MLS is Back: 4-0-1) vs. Portland Timbers (3-1-1, 10 points, MLS is Back 4-0-1)
What: 2020 MLS is Back Tournament Semifinals
Where: ESPN World Wide of Sports, Orlando, Florida
When: Wednesday, August 5, 8 p.m.
Watch: Fox Sports 1, TUDN, Fox Sports App
Whistle: Referee Allen Chapman; Assistant referees Corey Rockwell and Jeremy Kieso; Fourth official Ramy Touchan; VAR Joseph Dickerson

Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers meet Wednesday night with an opportunity to be the first team to make the first-ever MLS is Back Tournament final.

The last time these two teams met, it was late May last season in Chester, with the Timbers heading home with a 3-1 win.

Scouting report: Portland

Portland is a squad who always seems to be in the MLS playoffs. In the group stage, Portland posted wins over the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo, both by 2-1 score lines, and a 2-2 draw to finish the group against LAFC. In the Round of 16, they were given a test by former Union man Haris Medunjanin and Cincinnati, advancing on penalties. Finally, a 3-1 win over NYCFC in the quarterfinals got them to this point .

Leading the attack now for Portland is star midfielder Sebastian Blanco, who joined Portland back in 2017. Since the 2017 season, Blanco has been able to register at least eight assists each season. To go along with his playmaking abilities, Blanco also notched 10 goals in 2018 and six in 2019. In MLS is Back alone, he’s accounted for two goals and five assists so far, driving much of Portland’s attack. To pair with Blanco, the Timbers also have rising star Jeremy Ebobisse, who in his first year as a regular starter last year notched 11 goals and an assist. At MLS is Back, Ebobisse had scored in all three group matches, but hasn’t notched a goal in the knockout rounds yet. The last major spot in the Portland attack is Diego Valeri, the longtime Portland star since 2013. Last season Valeri was able to score eight goals and contribute a further 16 assists on the season. So far in the tournament, he’s notched two goals and an assist, and scored in the penalty shootout against Cincinnati. Valeri has also begun to take a more “super sub” approach to this season, coming in at the start of the second half to keep defenses guessing.

In the back, Portland has much less star power, but some recognizable names. Fringe USMNT player Jorge Villafana is playing outside back, and new man Dario Zuparic is holding down the center with Larrys Mabiala. At defensive midfield is another long time Timberss star in Diego Chara. Chara doesn’t score a lot, but he sure is physical. He’s picked up 11 yellow cards in his previous 2 full MLS seasons. Lastly, in net is Steve Clark, who’s had a unique path in MLS. A starter for the crew in 2014-2016, he became the backup at DC the following year only to be released in 2018 and being picked up by the Timbers. He posted 6 shutouts last year, but hasn’t been able to keep a clean sheet yet at MLS is Back.

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

The Union are coming off a high after playing their best game of the tournament so far, but will that result in a hangover? Sergio Santos and Brenden Aaronson were on fire last Thursday, but a big question is how Aaronson will deal with a physical Portland team, especially Diego Chara. Kacper Przybylko hasn’t fully come to life so far, so he may be due for a goal, or at least a decent outing. I’d take it as a good sign that he was visibly angry at himself for his performance against Kansas City: an angry Kacper could be a dangerous thing, and something the Union may need.

Another thing to watch is the play of Jose “El Brujo” Martinez, who has received four yellow cards in five matches and sat out one game through suspension. With the shiftiness of Sebastian Blanco, El Brujo will have to be particularly careful not to receive a yellow early in the match. He’ll need to keep his emotions in check to help the Union stop the Portland attack and keep up his chaotic energy.

While we all know that Andre Blake has been a brick wall during the tournament, coming up big when his team needs it, enough hasn’t been said about the Union backline. Other than the second half of the NYCFC match, the defense hasn’t given up many good looks. Mark McKenzie and Kai Wagner were recently named to the Team of the Week, and Ray Gaddis and Jack Elliott have been quietly playing some of their best games. Through five matches, the Union have only given up 3 goals, while Blake has been a good reason that number has been so low, the backline has also been quite good.

Key matchup: Midfield battle.

On paper, these 2 midfields are almost exactly identical. Diego Chara and Jose Martinez both bring chaos, Sebastian Blanco and Jamiro Monterio can both control play with and without the ball. Ilsinho and Diego Valeri are subs that can change the game in an instant. Whoever controls the game in the middle will dictate the pace of play, driving either Martinez or Chara insane.

Prediction: Philadelphia 2-1 Portland

I almost hate myself for predicting the Union are going to a final, but I can’t pick a draw. Portland hasn’t kept a clean sheet once the whole tournament and the Union attack is starting to heat up. Conversely, Portland is starting to heat up in attack as well. However this game goes, it’ll be an emotional rollercoaster.


  1. Looking forward to this one. I like that 2-1 score line. We have to be sharp defensively. Need Bruno to go card free for the first half of that’s at all possible for him.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Hopefully the extra 51 hours or so of rest will help the Union.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    I know it sounds generic to say, but I feel like the subs will make a difference. And not just Ilsinho at the 60th min. The Union are more rested and should be able to do some damage early – especially if they start out anything like they did against KC – and then close it out with the subs to solidify or get the dagger in the heart goal in the 85th min. I say 3-1 Union with that dagger coming from Fontana.

  4. Andrew Arsenic Wenger says:

    Has the Union ever beaten them other than the 1 time in Chester where the Timbers only sent part of their team?

    Historically bad match-up both home and away.

    Maybe neutral site provides an answer………

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Nope. Draws in 2011, 2013, and 2014 along with the one win in 2015. Since then the Union have lost 4 straight to Portland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *