Preview: Portland Timbers (a).
When? Sunday March 27, 1 p.m. PT, 4 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. GMT.
Where? Providence Park, Portland, OR.
How can I catch the action? Residents of North America can watch the game on ESPN Deportes, ESPN and TSN2. For us UK folk, the game will be broadcast on FreeSports (FreeView channel 64) and on the FreeSports app.
It's another trip out west for Oscar Pareja and his men. Another tough test undoubtedly awaits. Orlando, however, can take confidence from their recent win over the Galaxy. Portland haven't exactly been pulling up any trees (guffaw, see what I did there?). Orlando have to see this as a winnable game.
It's been a while since we faced off against the Timbers, with the last match up being in the MLS Is Back final in 2020. I'm sure no-one needs any reminders about what happened that day. Many of the Orlando City line-up that day will be involved this weekend, which adds another intriguing layer to an already fascinating encounter.
Providence Park is one of the most difficult grounds in MLS to prevail in. The compact stadium and vociferous crowd are renowned throughout the league. Their homefield advantage is something Giovanni Savarese and his team will be hoping to capitalise on this weekend.
The Timbers headed into this season with high hopes on the back of their 4th placed western conference and run to the MLS Cup final last time out. They appear to be suffering something of a hangover from that defeat to NYCFC in their own backyard. They may have yet to get going in 2022 (they are currently sat 9th in the west), but the Timbers are still a dangerous side with the likes of Diego Chara and Sebastian Blanco still in their ranks.
The Timbers' stats make for surprising reading; 19th in MLS for shots per game, 18th for big chances created, 11th for goals per game and 7th for saves made per game, according to fotmob.com. This is a team that's struggling to find it's feet at both ends of the pitch. This is a team that is struggling to imprint its identity on matches; they rank 19th in MLS for passes per game (315.8) and 23rd in possession with 44%. They're definitely in something of a malaise right now.
They're trying to use their width to attack but don't seem to be doing the leg work to cover in transition. Look at the heatmap in figure 1, they pushed both of their full-backs up in their game against FC Dallas, yet Dallas were able to exploit the space well. No one really dropped into pressure the Dallas wide players. There are 2 examples of this happening with the first goal alone (figures 2 & 3). If Orlando can isolate the Portland full-backs with the pace of Benji Michel and the trickery of Pato, they may have some joy.
Figure 1 shows the Portland defence's heatmap from their defeat to FC Dallas.
Figure 2 is a game still from just before the first Dallas goal. Look at the space on the right.
Figure 3 is a game still taken 3 seconds after figure 2, Jose Van Rankin (RB pink) is on an island here.
The Timbers are set to be without Tega Ikoba, Felipe Mora, Eryk Williamson, Hunter Sulte and Christian Paredes through injury. Bill Tuiloma will be absent for international duty.
As for Orlando City, they are set to be without Pedro Gallese, Sebas Mendez and Facundo Torres due to international duty. Aside from them, Oscar Pareja has a full roster to choose from.
This section will be updated as more information becomes available.
Possible starting XI
You have to think there will be some changes for Portland; although their absentee list restricts them somewhat. I can see Blanco coming in, especially with them being at home, and possibly Justin Rasmussen for Tuiloma:
Even at the ripe old age of 34, Blanco is one of Portland's best players. He hasn't started much lately, well at all actually. However he featured for 45 minutes as a second half sub in Dallas. It could be time for the Timbers to turn to the veteran playmaker once more.
Portland haven't gotten off to the best of starts, chalking up a win and 2 draws before the 4-1 reversal in Texas. That run leaves them 9th in the west with a 1-2-1 record.
Orlando, on the other hand, bounced back from a frustrating defeat to FC Cincinnati by picking up all 3 points at the Galaxy. The Lions are 2-1-1 and lie 5th in the east.
*All statistics courtesy of fotmob.com and MLSsoccer.com
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com
Cover image and Oscar Pareja video asset courtesy of Orlando City SC.
Dario Ziparic video asset courtesy of Portland Timbers.
Heatmap courtesy of whoscored.com
Game stills courtesy of mlssoccer.com