Another day, another opportunity.
That’s the way Head Coach Oscar Pareja and his group of Lions have approached each match throughout their run at the MLS is Back Tournament, with their looming contest no exception.
On Thursday, the Lions will face off against the Loons of Minnesota United with a berth in the MLS is Back Tournament Final on the line.
The match is riddled with storylines on and off the field, as each club continues the pursuit of their first hardware in their respective MLS eras, the drive evident on both sides.
“I think that the motivation for everyone who is participating in this game — I’m talking about clubs, fans, players, staff, coaches — it’s intrinsic. I think it comes from within us,” Pareja said of Thursday's match.
“You don’t need any extra motivator or any extra factor to motivate anyone who is going to participate in a Semifinal in Major League Soccer. I just see it as another game that represents a lot for everyone. It’s just this one game and we are going to make sure that we’re there, that’s our responsibility.”
For the Lions, it’s very much apparent what’s at stake. A berth in their first Final of any sort in the MLS era, the chance to play for a title on their home soil and another opportunity to give its fanbase a memorable victory, much like they did in their Quarterfinal match against LAFC.
First they will have to get through a Minnesota side who some would say have had a surprising run throughout the tournament as well.
The Loons knocked off the Columbus Crew in the Round of 16 via a penalty shootout, who were considered one of the tournament favorites after the group stage, and followed that performance with a commanding 4-1 victory over San Jose in the Quarterfinals.
But if this City side has shown anything thus far, it’s that they’re not afraid of any opposition and look forward to each challenge along their path.
“We've just been kind of confident, but not arrogant. I think that’s a good way to sum up how we feel now and how we’ve felt throughout this tournament. We feel like we have a good team on both sides of the ball, we feel like we have depth, we feel like the momentum is in our favor so we’re feeling very confident but obviously not arrogant,” Lions forward Tesho Akindele said.
“We’re taking every game very seriously and I think it’s been paying off. For this game I expect just a fight, it’s going to be the same as any playoff game would be. You saw it last game, but a very physical battle, scratching and clawing for inches on the field and that’s kind of what I’m going to expect against Minnesota as well.”
No matter the outcome of Thursday’s battle, the run that the Lions have been on throughout this tournament has been nothing short of inspiring and a clear indicator of success to come.
However, the group is well aware that their job is not finished yet and what a berth in Tuesday’s Final would mean for all who support them.
“It would be huge for the Club, for the people who are working really hard behind the scenes to make this a big Club and for the fans. They’ve been there always in both the bad moments and the good moments and I think if we can advance and be in the Final it would be a good gift to them, too,” midfielder Uri Rosell said of the meaning behind Thursday’s match.
“We’re really excited that we are in this position right now. Twenty-six teams arrived here and now we are one of the four left. That’s huge for us and now we have the possibility to win one game and be in the Final. That’s something that we have to be proud of and something we are looking to do in the next week to complete the job."