After a miserable start of the year, Orlando City SC gave its fans reasons to smile for the first time in 2018 last week, when the Lions won their first MLS regular season match of the year against the New York Red Bulls. With one victory in the books, the Lions look forward to the Portland Timbers, their opponents later today (4 p.m.) at Orlando City Stadium.
Like the Lions, the Timbers had a rough few weeks to start their MLS campaign and they are yet to win a match, with two losses and two draws so far. Playing at home, Orlando has a good opportunity to win back-to-back games — something the team last accomplished almost a year ago, after victories over New York City FC and the Colorado Rapids in the last week of April 2017.
“We know that we need a result,” Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis said about the match. “We know that we need to start going here. We need to be able to win matches in a row. We need to get on winning streaks in order to do anything in this league and that’s our intent.”
Despite the slow start, the Timbers have some talented players on their roster and are expected to put up a good fight tonight. Here are some of the things Orlando City needs to accomplish to be in good position to get its second consecutive victory:
Crowd the Center of the Field
One thing that can clearly be said about the Timbers in 2018 is that they build most of the game through the center of the field. New head coach Giovanni Savarese has adopted a 4-3-2-1 formation, which makes the most of the skills of MLS’s 2017 MVP, Diego Valeri, and his fellow Argentinean, Sebastian Blanco.
Not surprisingly, all four goals scored by the Timbers in 2018 came through the feet of the Argentineans, with Blanco scoring three and assisting Valeri for the other. It doesn’t matter if Kreis sends the Lions onto the field in the 4-4-2 or in the 4-2-3-1, he needs to make sure his players are compact in the center of the field, limiting the space for runs and cutting off passing lanes for Blanco and Valeri.
Outplay Adi Inside the Box
Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 185 pounds, Fanendo Adi is arguably one of the most physical and athletic strikers in the league. The Nigerian is a tough match-up even for the 6-foot-3, 170-pound Lamine Sané and will need to be closely watched when he’s inside the box, ideally with one of the center backs looking for contact with him and the other in position to step up and double him up if needed.
Adi, who last scored a goal in July, is still recovering his best form after dealing with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for a good portion of the 2017 season. But a striker with his physical tools and a track record of 53 goals in 122 MLS matches cannot be taken for granted.
Exploit Portland’s Defensive Fragility
The Timbers’ Achilles heel in 2018 has arguably been their defense, which is not even a shadow of what it was three years ago, when it was the third-best in the entire league and helped the team win the MLS Cup.
Because of injuries and poor performances of presumable starters, young players such as Bill Tuiloma, 23, and Marco Farfan, 19, who combine for 10 MLS starts, are being forced to play big minutes for the Timbers and their lack of experience can certainly be exploited by Orlando.
Veteran center back Liam Ridgewell, the team’s captain, was left off the game day roster in the last two matches and his absence has generated a lot of speculation, which puts the youngsters under even heavier pressure.