The Timbers wrap up their season opening road trip on Sunday with a match against Eastern Conference side Orlando City SC. The Lions are off to a turbulent start after being widely praised for their moves over the offseason, so we talked to Logan Oliver of The Mane Land to get a better idea of what is going on in Florida.
To see our answers to Logan’s questions about the Timbers, head over here.
What were the expectations for this Orlando team coming into the season and how have they changed in the four weeks since?
With the roster moves Orlando made this off-season, the goal is to make the playoffs for the first time in club history. After three years of putting teams together that might finish sixth, the Front Office got wise and underwent a massive overhaul from the starting lineup to the bench that resembles something closer to the top teams in the Conference and not the mid-table teams. It was definitely a “win-now or else” kind of winter.
The individual talent is obviously there to accomplish that through four matches, but we still haven’t seen this team with all of its key pieces on the field together. Missing Dom Dwyer — and for that matter, a striker in general — for three weeks handicapped the offense. With Sacha Kljestan suspended and dynamic young Paraguayan Josué Colmán also hurt, the team was fielding players out of position to fill the No. 10 spot to start the year. New defensive midfielder Oriol Rosell has been out with a knee issue which has meant relying on rookie Cam Lindley at a crucial spot.
The expectation will likely remain the same no matter the results, but the early returns aren’t exactly indicative of what this team could become.
The Lions made some big changes over the offseason. Of the side’s new players, who has impressed, who has struggled, and who do you still have hope for?
Justin Meram has been a steady offensive force to start the season and his ability to beat a defender with the ball at his feet is something Orlando has lacked in recent years. Josué Colmán has arguably looked even better than Justin on the ball, but his minutes have been limited due to injury. Libyan left back Mohamed El-Munir has been steady on both ends of the pitch and an upgrade on the players OCSC has had there in the past. But the biggest surprise might be Egyptian center back Amro Tarek, who came over on loan from Wadi Degla but has impressed with starter’s minutes.
As far as who has struggled, the rookies naturally look a half step behind but have shown flashes of their potential so far. Stéfano Pinho’s struggles have mainly been injury related as he came off with an ankle injury after just 60 minutes of playing time. Same with Uri Rosell, who has been dealing with a knee problem since before he arrived in Orlando.
There’s still hope for everyone to improve given how early it is in the year and how new most of the roster is to Orlando. Sacha Kljestan and Lamine Sané came in with high expectations, and while it’s unfair to say they’ve struggled so far, there’s hope they can become dominant forces for the team.
With PC, Will Johnson, Dom Dwyer, and post-2017 heel turn Sacha Kljestan on the roster, are Orlando embracing a role as the villains of the Eastern Conference? Should they be?
That might be the image around the league but it hasn’t really set in around town. Sacha has quickly endeared himself to the fan base with how he’s carried himself and the things he’s said. At this point, whatever persona the team takes on that gets it into the playoffs would likely be fine with the Orlando faithful. If that’s as the villains, so be it.
Lineup Prediction: (4-2-3-1) Joe Bendik; Scott Sutter, Jonathan Spector, Lamine Sané, Mohamed El-Munir; Will Johnson, Yoshimar Yotún; Josué Colmán, Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram; Dom Dwyer