Preview: MLS Is Back final. Portland Timbers (n).
Updated: Aug 13
When? Tuesday August 11, 5.30 p.m. PT, 8.30 p.m. ET and 1.30 a.m. (12/8) GMT.
Where? ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, FL.
How can I catch the action? ESPN Deportes, the ESPN, TSN Sports and the TSN app for residents of the United States. TVA Sports 2 and TVA Sports App for Canadian residents. Free Sports (Freeview channel 64, and on the app) as well as Sky Sports Football for us U.K. folk. The game is also available via radio locally on 96.9 The game and 810AM ACCION (ESP).
A few days have passed, and I almost still have to pinch myself to make sure this is all real and not just some sort of dystopian reality I am experiencing. Inception has been a very real concern for me. Almost as much as it was for Di Caprio that one time. That being said, as far as I can tell, it's all very real. Orlando City have made it to the final of MLS Is Back. They are one win away from CONCACAF Champions League football and a truck load of cash. $328,000 to be precise. In their way stand a solid, if unspectacular, Portland Timbers side. This will be no easy test, but it is one I'm confident this team can pass with flying colours.
This is a very good Timbers side who are packed full of quality in the forward areas. The likes of Marvin Loría, Diego Valeri and Sebastián Blanco have the ability to tear anyone to shreds on their day. Especially with the in-form Jeremy Ebobisse. The striker currently has 4 goals on the tournament so far, which has him tied for third in the golden boot race. Former West Bromwich Albion and San Lorenzo playmaker Blanco has 3 goals and 5 assists during MLS Is Back. Likewise, the mercurial Valeri (3 goals, 1 assist) and Loría (0 goals, 1 assist) provide further attacking depth.
Valeri, in particular, is a real danger man. The experienced Argentine forward has been a thorn in Orlando's side in the past, and they will need to marshal him well if they hope to keep their impressive defensive record in-tact. In figure 1, you will see Valeri's heatmap from the win over Philadelphia. Note how he drifts from side to side, into the little pockets of space on the edge of the area. Even beyond the main striker. Mendez and Rosell will have to police his movements in front of the back 4 to nullify his considerable threat.
Figure 1 Valeri's heatmap from Portland's semi-final win.
Portland have an intriguing style; they have attempted less passes than their opponents (figure 2) in all but 2 of their games in the tournament thus far. And those 2 games were against Cincinnati and Houston, so they are possible outliers. They are a team that can go direct and play the ball short. They don't necessarily like to dominate the ball, so this is another game where the Lions will have to be wary of the counter.
Figure 2 Philadelphia (orange) attempted more passes than the Timbers. A recurring theme for Portland in this competition.
Whilst the Timbers undoubtedly have tremendous quality going forward having scored 12 times in this tournament, they are vulnerable. This team has yet to keep a clean sheet during MLS Is Back; conceding 7 goals in the process. They certainly aren't impervious. This fact won't have escaped the attention of Oscar Pareja. He will undoubtedly instruct his team to get the ball forward with the same drive and fervour we have seen throughout this tournament. Luis Nani in particular will be licking his lips in anticipation. The former Portuguese international lit up the semi-final clash with Minnesota United. His two superb goals were the difference between the teams. The forward continues to fly in the face of his doubters. Who would bet against him having a similar impact in this game? He is a veteran of European Championship and UEFA Champions League finals. That big game experience could be crucial.
Orlando City should have a clean bill of health heading into this tie, with the obvious exception of Dom Dwyer. Robin Jansson left the game against Minnesota late on but this seemed like a precautionary move given his previous injury v LAFC. He received some on the field treatment but seemed to walk off fine. There have been no reports suggesting anything more serious, at least at the time of writing.
Dairon Asprilla remains out, having been placed on the season ending injury list. Aside from Asprilla the Timbers, at the time of writing, had not yet reported any fresh injury concerns.
Possible starting XI for Portland
I would expect the Timbers to keep the same team from the win against Philadelphia. The only change I could feasibly see to the team that bested the Union would be Yimmi Chará coming in for Loría on the flank. Loría has 0 goals and 1 assist on the tournament overall, and was less than stellar against Philadelphia. The Costa Rican does have quality though, so it will be interesting to see what Giovanni Savarese does in that position. The wings could be where this game is won and lost, so contributions from those areas will be key.
Valeri has long been the captain and all-round talisman for this team. He has scored over 80 goals for the Cascadian club. He also had a spell with FC Porto during his early career. Valeri has immense quality and continues to be a focal point for this club. The presence of the likes of Blanco around him undoubtedly makes his job easier. He's a big player who has delivered on the big occasions for this team. Stopping Valeri could well be one of the keys to victory for the Lions in this game.
One titbit which bodes well for the Lions is the club's record against Portland. In the 5 games between the sides Orlando has won 3 and drawn one. The sole draw in this series came last season in a 1-1 draw at Providence Park. A late Jeremy Obobisse goal denied City all three points after Santiago Patiño had given James O'Connor's team the lead.
Line-up graphic courtesy of buildlineup.com