Whether you agreed with them or not, the expectations for Orlando City’s 2018 campaign were sky high during the off-season. Jason Kreis and his team were aggressive on the market, bringing in several high-profile players to fill voids left by departing favorites. The additions of Sacha Kljestan, Oriol Rosell, Lamine Sané, and many others electrified the supporters and, naturally, resulted in the anticipation of a league-conquering squad that could break into the MLS playoffs and compete with the perennial powerhouse clubs.
One of those powerhouse clubs, the Portland Timbers, will travel to Orlando City Stadium this Sunday in a bid to capture its first win of the season. That’s right, Mane Landers, even an MLS Western Conference semifinalist is experiencing a difficult start to the season.
The Timbers, as we all know, are widely considered one of the best-managed clubs in the league. Since their first MLS game on March 19, 2011, the club has already managed to qualify for the playoffs three times – seizing their first MLS Cup in 2015. Renowned names with global appeal like Diego Valeri, Sebastián Blanco, and Fanendo Adi represent the club’s crest proudly, and the supporters in Portland, much like here in Orlando, are second to none.
Also much like the Lions’ supporters, some of the Timbers’ supporters are growing impatient and concerned with their side’s slow start to the season. Winless with only two points through four matches (albeit all on the road, against much-improved squads), the Timbers are basically in the same boat as the Lions: a boat full of underperformers with holes to plug. It appears that both clubs view this Sunday’s match as an excellent opportunity to plug those holes, right the ship, and prepare for the treacherously deep ocean that is the full MLS season.
This match, at least for one of these two clubs, may well serve as the compass and sextant that guides the ship back on course towards winning results.
Coming off an exhilarating, back-and-forth 4-3 win against the New York Red Bulls, the Lions should be entering this match with a slight sense of urgency to see it through and collect nothing less than three points. The boys in purple looked solid last weekend following three weeks of, well, not looking solid. With only four points to show from four matches, Head Coach Jason Kreis is well aware that more is expected of his new-look squad. Players that were missing are finally becoming healthy again, and the others are slowly but surely rounding into form. The supporters have been told numerous times that “late March to early April” would be the time that the squad would finally become fully available, and so far that looks to be an accurate estimate. The injection of quality footballers like Kljestan, Sané, and Dom Dwyer has revitalized the squad and the supporters, and it’s crucial that the momentum doesn’t falter now.
Another thing that’s likely on the mind of Kreis and the club’s management is the fact that this is the last match at home before playing two of the next three on the road (Philadelphia Union, Colorado Rapids). This is an important opportunity for the Lions to set the tone for their upcoming travels, and an important moment for the supporters to give one last passionate display before watching their Lions on television screens in Orlando’s local pubs in the coming weeks.
As I stated previously, the Timbers are essentially in uncharted waters right now as they’ve failed to win in their first four matches. They’ve had rough starts, but rarely as rough as what they’re currently going through. As one of the few clubs in the league that’s expected to perform well week in and week out, the Timbers may view this match with more importance than the Lions. New Head Coach Giovanni Savarese knows that this isn’t the start the club’s brass envisioned when he was appointed late last year. While he’ll likely be nowhere near the hot seat for some time, he’s still waiting for his first MLS win. This is his chance to pull his squad up by the bootstraps and lead them to a win in sunny Florida.
This match also provides the club a golden opportunity to energize its supporters just prior to returning to Providence Park to host two strong opponents: an improved Minnesota United and the currently impenetrable New York City FC. The supporters in Portland truly are spectacular already, but something tells me that they’d be a touch louder if their team returned with three points in hand.
With that said, neither ship is sinking. Sure, there are holes in the hulls and the boats aren’t necessarily headed in the right direction, but there’s ample time to fix these things. This match provides the opportunity to right the ship and sail onward towards the spoils: the MLS Cup.
En garde, Portland.