The Portland Timbers are headed to the Sunshine State to take on Orlando City SC tomorrow for their fourth match of the young 2016 Major League Soccer season. With a back line in flux and things still coming together for the 2015 MLS Cup champions, a chance at taking down the team that thoroughly dismantled them last year in one of the low points int he Timbers' 2015 season could kick-start what many in Portland are hoping will be the team's best season yet.
To get a better idea of what the Timbers should be expecting from Orlando, we talked to the fine folks over at The Mane Land and they were kind enough to answer our questions about this weekend's opposition.
Of course, in the spirit of fair play, we answered their questions as well, which you can find here.
Kaka: what should Timbers fans expect from the Orlando No. 10 after his promising preseason and subsequent injury? And, just as importantly, how will Kaka's return to the Lion's lineup change the team's approach to the match?
I think Timbers fans should probably expect 45-60 minutes out of the Brazilian, working closer to goal than he did last season. This is sometimes in a new 4-3-3 formation and sometimes it's a 4-3-2-1 with the captain simply playing higher than last year. He has taken it upon himself to provide more offense in 2016 and that was on full display in the preseason. His lineup will most likely be a big boost to both Kevin Molino and Antonio Nocerino, who both seem to think faster than their teammates. With Kaká between the two, it should improve three positions.Oh, and it will help Orlando City's anemic set piece crossing accuracy.
Orlando may be undefeated so far in 2016, but the side also have yet to win in their two games at the Citrus Bowl; is this a return of the worrying home form of 2015 or an indication that the Lions will be difficult to beat in Florida?
I don't think it's a repeat. For one thing, the captain has been missing, Carlos Rivas had a knock, and Nocerino was just getting his first competitive game action since August. For another, the first game saw a goal waved off on a dubious offside call and the second saw Cyle Larin hauled down by the arm in the box without a call. Both were winnable matches. Also, there's no way Orlando City would have rallied to draw Real Salt Lake a year ago from two goals down in stoppage time. If the team wasn't generating chances it would be more worrisome. Those were in short supply last year. Also, in last year's form, those draws would have been late losses. To summarize, I'd say the Lions will be difficult to beat at home in 2016.
The Lions caught Caleb Porter and company off guard with a tactical switcheroo last year; do you think Adrian Heath has anything like that in mind for the two teams' second meeting or will Orlando's offseason changes have to be enough to keep the Timbers off balance?
I don't expect any surprises from Orlando City for this match. Adrian Heath finally seems to have his entire first-choice lineup available to him and so he'll probably want to use his preseason lineup (plus Nocerino) at home. I look for the Lions to try to focus on their own game in this match-up rather than try to come up with something special just for Portland. I think Heath will use this match as a barometer to find out where his team is at this point in its development. If things don't go well during the game, then he may decide to change shape or try new things.
I believe this is what we'll see on Sunday: Joe Bendik; Brek Shea, Seb Hines, Tommy Redding, Rafael Ramos; Antonio Nocerino, Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren; Kaká, Kevin Molino; Cyle Larin.