After taking four of our five points on the road, Orlando City fans should be looking forward to another game played away from home. However the Portland Timbers have one of the most rabid fan bases in all of MLS and the Timbers Army will not make it easy for the Lions to gain points on the road. The Timbers have not lost any of their last seven consecutive home games and an away trip against Portland may be coming at just the wrong time for a team desperately needing to get a result.
The Timbers that currently play in MLS are the fourth iteration of the franchise, with the team having been around in some form since 1975. They started out in NASL, then moved to the Western Soccer Alliance, then on to USL, prior to making the move to MLS in 2011.
They have enjoyed limited success in their 40-year history, with two regular season championships and one overall title. However, these traditional measures of "success" haven't diminished Portland's passion for soccer, with a season ticket waiting list of over 10,000 fans, the Timbers Army will continue to follow their team no matter how the club is playing or how the results are going. And, for any visiting team, that kind of passion is certainly intimidating.
The Timbers had a relatively quiet off-season, despite just missing the MLS playoffs last season to their Cascadia Cup rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps. Despite losing some some starters in the off-season, Portland Head Coach Caleb Porter felt that the team didn't need to make too many additions to be competitive in 2015.
The Timbers lost goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to Orlando City in the Expansion Draft, traded defender Michael Harrington to Colorado, and chose not to pick up options on defender Pa Madou Kah (now with Vancouver), midfielder Kalif Alhassan (now with recent expansion side, Minnesota United), and defender Rauwshan McKenzie (NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks). The loss of three players at the back, plus their starting goalkeeper, left the Timbers a little short in defense, however, the front office went on a good recruitment drive to shore up the back line.
During the off-season, the Timbers recruited MLS veteran Nat Borchers (and, more importantly, his beard) from Real Salt Lake to strengthen the defense, brought in highly touted goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey from Norwegian side Stromsgodset, and collected two players for the future in midfielder Nick Besler (the brother of USMNT player Matt Besler) and defender Andy Thoma. They also got Dairon Aspirilla, a Carlos Rivas doppelganger, to help get them scoring goals up front and providing service to DP forward Fanendo Adi.
The Season So Far
Five games into the season, Portland has six points and is currently sitting fifth in the Western Conference. Overall, Portland fans should probably be happy with the start so far, especially since DP playmaker Diego Valeri and talisman midfielder Will Johnson are still out with injuries from last season and have already seen a tough schedule to start the campaign.
The Timbers opened the season at home to Western Conference perennial playoff team, Real Salt Lake, which ended up in a nil-nil draw. They then played host to 2014 MLS Cup champions, LA Galaxy which was a little more exciting, with a 2-2 draw being the result.
The Timbers then went on the road for their next two fixtures, where they held Sporting Kansas City to a nil-nil tie, but lost to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1, which got their Cascadia Cup hopes off to a poor start. However, what could be worrying for Orlando City fans going into this week's fixture is that in Portland's last run-out they found their scoring boots, keeping Timber Joey very busy, and emerged as 3-1 winners against then-Western Conference leaders FC Dallas heading into last weekend.
My Player to Watch
The Timbers have a number of players that Orlando City fans need to be aware of. Center back Liam Ridgewell, who has over 200 games of EPL experience, Diego Chara, who has lightning pace and is very good in attack despite playing defensive midfield, and Argentine forward Maximiliano Urruti, who has a habit of being in the right place at the right time to score goals for the Timbers, are all strong players to keep an eye on in Sunday's game.
However, my player to watch is Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe, who played collegiate soccer for the University of Akron (who at the time were coached by Porter) turned a strong stint in college into being the first SuperDraft pick for the Portland Timbers in MLS, and since then he has been quite often one of the first names on the team sheet.
Nagbe, who has been consistently one of the most fouled players during his time in MLS, offers Portland width, speed, and the ever-dangerous opportunity to win a free kick or PK to help get a goal. With Orlando's ability to give games away on set pieces, Nagbe will be a player that Orlando will need to keep quiet to have a chance of winning on the road in front of the Timbers Army.
So what does it all mean? Well, it means that Orlando is going to have to play well and not give away late fouls in dangerous areas to have a chance of taking some points away from Providence Park in Portland. If you aren't making the trip to Oregon, the game can be found on ESPN2 with kick-off set for 5 p.m. ET.