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Orlando City vs. Portland Timbers: Match Preview, Starting XIs, Predictions and More

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As Orlando City prepares to take on the Portland Timbers this weekend, how big a difference will Kaká's return make in a huge early season match for Orlando?

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As Orlando City (1-0-2, 5 points) returns from the international break, the Lions are approaching full strength for the first time this season. And not a moment too soon, as the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers (1-1-1, 4 points) descend on the Citrus Bowl.

Kaká should be available on Sunday, as Orlando looks to grab its first home win of the season in impressive fashion. Fortunately for those planning on attending the match, history suggests the Lions could take all three points from this one.

Orlando City demolished last season's defending champs in a 4-0 rout of the LA Galaxy in what was easily Orlando's most impressive win of 2015. And in their lone match-up against Portland last year, the Lions left Providence Park with a 2-0 victory, as Cyle Larin scored his first MLS goal.

Here's how the club will look to grab another positive result against Portland this weekend.

Starting XI and Lineup Projections

Orlando City vs Portland Timbers - Football tactics and formations


Orlando City

He's back.

The Lions can expect a boost from the return of their captain, as Kaká has declared himself fit for the biggest game of Orlando's young season. Expect him to slot into the left side of Adrian Heath's 4-3-2-1, as it will be interesting to see how quickly Kaká adjusts to playing less of a central position in the midfield. This will also be the first time he gets a chance to line up alongside Antonio Nocerino, as the former AC Milan teammates will look to develop some chemistry in MLS.

The captain's return means Brek Shea is at left back again, where it could be worth watching how he responds to a national team snub and a quiet start to the 2016 season. On paper, Orlando City's offense should be flowing alongside the left flank, as Shea-Nocerino-Kaká sounds like a trio that could tear apart opposing defenses. I don't think we'll see instant results on Sunday, but that could be a group to keep an eye on as the season wears on.

Portland Timbers

Caleb Porter relies on a 4-3-3 to power the defending champs, and he's been pretty consistent with his lineups in 2016.

One change we can expect on Sunday will be at left back, where Jamaican defender Alvas Powell looks unlikely to start after making two appearances for Jamaica in World Cup qualifying. Porter has said either Chris Klute, Jack Barmby or Zarek Valentin will get the start at left back. With his squad searching for consistency, I think Porter sends out Barmby to see what the Leicester City loanee can do against Orlando.

Player(s) to Watch

The Portland Timbers bring a roster stacked with proven MLS talent into this match-up, as they've built a team that expects to make the playoffs every season in a competitive Western Conference.

The club's most talked about players have been newly minted USMNT midfielder Darlington Nagbe and Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi, but Portland's success is really about a starting XI that runs deeper than pretty much any team in the league.

I mean seriously, just look at the midfield. You've got Nagbe, as the 25-year-old play-maker is a key part of the Timbers' attack, but the duo of Diego Valeri and Diego Chara is just as deadly. Valeri scored the fastest goal in MLS Cup history against Columbus last year, the culmination of what's been a fantastic couple years for the Argentine.

On defense, the club will look no further than goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey, who led MLS with 13 shutouts in 2015. The Ghanaian international brings World Cup experience to Portland and should make things difficult for Orlando in the final third. Nat Borchers is the bearded face of the Timbers' back line, and the American will be tasked with shutting down Cyle Larin on Sunday.

Prediction: Orlando City 2, Portland Timbers 2

Orlando is catching the champs at a great time, as Portland has yet to hit its stride in 2016.

But the Lions aren't exactly coasting themselves. The club still hasn't turned in a 90-minute performance truly deserving of a win and it's tough to see that happening against a team like Portland. I think the Lions will play their best game of the season on Sunday. I just don't think it's going to be enough to claim all three points against such talented opposition.

Look for Kaká to make an immediate impact and Larin to grab yet another goal. Best-case scenario: the Lions find something to build on before a trip to Philadelphia next week.