The Portland Timbers host new expansion side Orlando City FC tomorrow in their first cross-conference match of the season. Orlando, captained by the illustrious Kaka, should prove difficult opposition, but with their first win under their belts the Timbers will be looking to build some momentum at home before heading out on the road again.
Coming off their first victory of the season, a 3-1 home win over FC Dallas, the Timbers come into this match hoping that their free-scoring ways of the last two years are back and here to stay.
After the team's first three goals, scored over the course of four matches, all came from Fanendo Adi, it seemed like the Timbers' multifaceted attack of years past might have stayed on the sidelines with Diego Valeri. The match against Dallas, however, gave the Timbers hope of once again being the dynamic scoring threat that they were in years past.
With Nat Borchers scoring on a header, Maximiliano Urruti getting the game winner through the run of play, and Diego Chara finishing the match off on the break, the Timbers showed off the versatility in the attack that they need to play the sort of possession based "domination" soccer that the team is built for. The Timbers may be hard pressed to replicate their 2013 season, when they had five players score seven or more goals and four of those players score nine or more, both firsts in MLS history.
Spreading out the scoring is key for a number of reasons, but none more so than that by confirming that the Timbers are a team with a number of viable scoring threats, the Timbers lessen the amount of pressure that opposition defenders can afford to put on any one player.
The win over Dallas was notable in that it was the Timbers' first use of the same starting XI twice in a row this season as the team kept the same 4-4-2 lineup that dominated the Vancouver Whitecaps but ultimately lost to them the week before. It looks very likely that the Timbers will run out that same lineup once again.
If there is going to be a change at all for the Timbers it will be in the holding midfield spot alongside Diego Chara. With Jack Jewsbury now a week removed from his return to play following some concussion symptoms that kept him out for a week and a half, the Salty Dog may step up and reclaim his spot in the center of the pitch from youngster George Fochive.
Chara will likely by stuck to the back of Orlando's captain/playmaker/goal-scorer Kaka for the duration of the match, doing his considered best to make the brilliant Brazilian a non-factor. This puts a significant weight on the shoulders of Chara's partner in the midfield, leaving them to be the shield in front of the defense while Chara is less able to provide that cover all over the field.
Jewsbury, the less mobile and more experienced of the two, may just be the better choice here as he faces off against an attacking group that is largely young and still adjusting to MLS. Fochive, in his three starts this year, has proven himself to be a solid defensive presence and an able contributor to the attack, but there are still some rough edges to his passing and occasional fouling, both things that could provide openings for Orlando.
Orlando City FC
Since their arrival in MLS at the start of the year, Orlando City have been an interesting team to watch. A side that likes to play possession and play a similar style to the Timbers, Orlando will prove an interesting match up for the Timbers after facing off against the direct attacking play of the Whitecaps and FCD.
Of course, when looking at Orlando the eye is immediately drawn to Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, aka. Kaka. The Brazilian attacking midfielder has long been a fixture at some of the top clubs in the world, playing for Brazil's Sao Paolo, Spain's Real Madrid, and Italy's AC Milan, with whom he won the UEFA Champions League and was named the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2007. His international career has been similarly illustrious, being capped 89 times for the Brazilian national team and winning the 2002 World Cup with his country at 20 years old.
For Orlando, Kaka is every bit as important as he sounds. Given a free role in the attack, Kaka is able to pop up all over the field and make things happen, whether that is playing the killer passes that can open up a defense or creating room for his own chances.
While Kaka has started the year off strong, scoring two goals and providing an assist through five games, his supporting cast have been somewhat slower out of the gate. It looked like Orlando had started to click in the attack in the team's week 4 draw against the Montreal Impact as Kaka and forward Pedro Ribeiro combined for both Orlando goals, but Ribeiro has since suffered a hamstring injury that is projected to keep him out for 2-3 months and has left Orlando once again scambling to patch together their attack.
Without Ribeiro or injured forward Martin Patterson, Orlando turned to their No. 1 overall draft pick Cyle Larin in last week's match against D.C. United, but were unable to get on the board despite controlling the game, eventually losing 1-0 on a Luis Silva free kick.
If the Orlando City attack has remained questionable through the start to this season, their back line appears to have become the rock on which the team is built. Boasting MLS veteran Aurelien Collin at centerback and 2015 Week 5 MLS Save of the Week winner Brek Shea at fullback, Orlando City have only allowed five goals in five games, the same defensive record as the Timbers and tied for the fourth best in the Eastern Conference.
Importantly, Orlando have also gotten some offensive production out of their fullbacks, Shea in particular. Prone to bombing down the left wing, Shea will be facing off against the Timbers' own attack-minded fullback, Alvas Powell, and should give the Jamaican youngster a handful on the wing.
Watch it on: ESPN2
Kickoff: 2:00 pm pacific at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 1-1-3, 7th place in the Western Conference
Orlando City SC: 1-2-2, 6th place in the Eastern Conference