On Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Union and the Portland Timbers face off in the first MLS is Back semi-final. Here are three things to watch for.
The Philadelphia Union arrived to the MLS is Back party last week with a 3-1 thumping of apparent contenders, Sporting Kansas City. It was one of the most impressive performances of the competition, a sign of real intent from a young and improving team that is ready to compete with the established elite.
And now they have a chance to challenge one of that very elite, the Portland Timbers, who have semi-serenely progressed their way through the MLS is Back Tournament without losing a match. The Timbers are wily, experienced, and extremely difficult to beat. But can they contain a vibrant Union?
Here are three things to watch for when the pair meet in the MLS is Back semi-finals on Wednesday night.
3. Valeri the super-sub?
Diego Valeri has been the beating heart of the Portland Timbers for many years. The Argentine creator is one of the greatest players in MLS history. A former league MVP, a multiple team-MVP, a brilliant blend of deft artistry, ruthless finishing, and deceptive athleticism and speed, he has been joyous to watch throughout his time in MLS.
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However, his time as the Timbers’ inspiration is perhaps coming to an end. In the offseason, he renegotiated his contract such that he is no longer a DP, allowing Portland to sign Yimmi Chara, and in the quarter-final against New York City FC, he started on the bench, Sebastian Blanco starting in behind the central striker instead.
Valeri being Valeri, though, still impacted the game, scoring a brilliant goal from off the bench, bringing down a difficult high ball, playing a one-two and finishing in the bottom corner. Should he continue in this role from off the bench, he might be the best super-sub in MLS. Suddenly, it adds another dimension to an already devastating Timbers team.