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Orlando City’s Defense Must Shine Against the Portland Timbers

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A clean sheet, a clean sheet, my kingdom for a clean sheet.

With the first win of the season in the books, it’s time to look forward to the next game. Waiting in the wings are the Portland Timbers, who currently sit 11th of 12 teams in the Western Conference and are still seeking their first win of the young season. While Orlando hasn’t had the greatest start to the season, last week showed some signs of improvement and the match-up with the Timbers brings the chance to work on the thing that’s plagued the team the most so far: defense.

In the four games that the Lions have played this year, they have conceded eight goals. Granted, none of the lineups in those games featured the team’s strongest starting XI. Whether it’s been Jonathan Spector, Dom Dwyer or Oriol Rosell missing, we still have yet to see a completely first choice lineup and that’s perhaps been most evident in the team’s defensive performances. Regardless of who’s on the field, giving up that many goals isn’t good.

The good news though is that while the first half of last week’s game looked quite shaky on the defensive end, things seemed to turn around in the second half. This was in no small part due to a substitution and a formation change. With Josué Colmán coming on to replace Cameron Lindley, the Lions switched to a 4-2-3-1 that saw Will Johnson and Yoshimar Yotún dropping into the defensive midfield while Justin Meram, Sacha Kljestan and Colmán made up the three midfielders behind Dwyer. The addition of another defensive midfielder proved crucial and the Red Bulls were only able to muster three shots in the second half, with one of those being the set piece goal. Compare that to the seven they had in the first half and it’s pretty clear that the changes worked.

It’ll be interesting to see if that tactic is implemented from the beginning in the game against the Timbers. With players like Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and Sebastián Blanco that can absolutely overrun opposing teams in the midfield, it would certainly seem to make sense. Whether it’s once again Yotún and Johnson partnering up, or if Rosell ends up making his OCSC debut, I’d feel a lot better about the team’s chances in a 4-2-3-1 rather than putting someone at the base of a diamond.

Regardless of what happens in the midfield, the other area of importance is the back line. While Spector has begun training with the team again and has been cleared from concussion protocol, there are no guarantees about whether or not he will play. If he does, then the captain’s return would certainly provide a needed boost to the back four. Scott Sutter and Mohamed El-Munir haven’t been without their faults this year, with El-Mo in particular having a torrid time defending on the back post thus far. It’s something that our own Sean Rollins discussed after the game against Minnesota United, and it was an issue again last week. If the defense is to improve, then that is something that simply has to be addressed.

Theoretically, most of the pieces are in place for a good defensive performance this Sunday. The Portland Timbers haven’t been playing particularly well and the game against the Lions will be the whopping fifth road game in a row for the Timbers to start the MLS season. On paper, it’s a good opportunity for Orlando to nab its first clean sheet of the season, even with the weapons that the opposition possesses. Hopefully, that’s exactly the way things shake out.