For the Portland Timbers to emerge victorious, they don’t need to dominate possession.
What Caleb Porter needed from his men was a complete game, and he got it. The result was three points.
For the second time, the Timbers scored the opening goal, but also continued the dubious trend of conceding mere minutes after scoring. The difference between Saturday’s effort and the disastrous results against LA and Vancouver is how they responded. It looked a lot more like the 2013 Timbers, who could absorb a punch and hit back harder.
More impressively, Portland’s three goals came from three different players, none named Fanendo Adi. Nat Borchers’s wide-open header provided the game's opening goal, and was a thing of set piece beauty. It is enticing to think about how good they will be when Diego Valeri gets back (in early May!)
Big name strikers have so far struggled to break through the Timbers disciplined defense, yet young wingers have found a way. Tesho Akindele made it a pattern with an equalizer six minutes after the Bearded One opened his Timbers account. Apparently though, if you’re way past your prime, it’s open season on Timbers Army hearts.
Maxi Urruti, who made his second consecutive start alongside Adi, restored order. The Argentine deflected in Dairon Asprilla’s pinpoint cross just a minute after the Colombian replaced Rodney Wallace. Diego Chara then put the icing on his birthday cake, breaking in one-on-one with the keeper and tucking the insurance goal away neatly, mid-celebratory stride.
Caleb Porter didn’t need Oscar Pareja’s tissue.
Sunday’s opponent, expansion Orlando City SC, have in a few short weeks established themselves as one of the league's most intriguing teams.
The “Lions,” as they are known, made early headlines with their 65,000+ opening day sellout of the Citrus Bowl. They feature a unique color scheme (one of the world's few purple teams), an “Americanized” moniker of “SC” (Soccer Club) instead of the traditional “FC”, and a controversial supporter group, The Ruckus.
Their captain also happens to be Ricardo Kakà, one of the greats of our generation.
The Brazilian wizard, who has donned the colors of European megateams AC Milan and Real Madrid, takes top billing alongside returning USMNT fullback, Break Shea. The big Texan returns from a disappointing stint with England’s Stoke City. The then-attacking midfielder has since reinvented himself as a defender in an effort to keep his spot in Jürgen Klinsmann's team. The result is a uniquely tall and attack-minded fullback, who is learning on the job. Shea is a dangerous offensive option, but remains a defensive liability that the Timbers can exploit.
A new team with a name-brand American player, colorful support, and a world football legend is intrigue in itself. Timbers fans will however be just as excited to welcome Donovan Ricketts back to the Rose City. Portland's acquisition of Adam Kwarasey made the 37-year old Jamaican expendable, but Ricketts remains nonetheless a fan favorite and MLS-era legend. His heroics (especially in 2013, when he won Goalkeeper of the Year) will never be forgotten. Ricketts should be welcomed warmly, but once the whistle blows for kickoff, business will be business.
Manager Adrian Heath usually plays a 4-2-3-1 formation with speedy wingers Kevin Molino and Erik Avila flanking Kakà, who sits just behind lone striker, Pedro Ribeiro. The back line is anchored by Middlesbrough academy product, Seb Hines, and former SKC card machine, Aurélien Collin. Another MLS veteran, Amobi Okugo, patrols the defensive midfield.
Expansion teams tend to be more of a wild card, since they don’t come with as much data as established ones. As Orlando forms its identity and style, everything seems to be subject to change. What we do know is they have struggled to score goals (four in five games), and their only win so far came via one of the most egregious goalkeeper blunders in recent memory. The Lions still pose an interesting challenge for Caleb Porter, whose Timbers have been hit-or-miss defending set pieces. While Orlando relies very heavily on their superstar, Kakà represents the most dangerous set piece threat to date.
Porter thus faces three difficult decisions:
First, should he stick with the 4-4-2? Considering how streaky a scorer Maxi Urruti can be, it would make little sense to bench him right after scoring his first goal. Urruti’s attacking flair will cause headaches for Orlando’s back line, and the disaster-prone Collin could be in for a long afternoon. We think the 4-4-2 will live on.
Second, Porter will have to decide whether or not to re-insert Jack Jewsbury into the starting XI. It takes a lot to lock down a midfielder like Kakà, so it may make sense to insert the steady veteran. Then again, George Fochive is quicker, and has done nothing to merit losing his place. For the record, we think the youngster will keep his starting spot.
Finally, Porter has a legitimate midfield controversy to deal with. In the 4-4-2, Rodney Wallace is the incumbent left midfielder, but his competition, Dairon Asprilla, provided the game-changing attack that Wallace couldn’t. We could very well see another 60/30 split, but if Rodney holds firm, he needs to play with urgency.
The return of the Iron Lion, the presence of a global legend, and an upstart expansion team will make for a fun afternoon. Two colorful teams with supporters to match meeting on national TV will make it a spectacle.