When Portland comes to town on Sunday, the match will pit clubs with two of the most passionate fan bases in MLS against each other. When Portland entered the league, the Timbers Army quickly established themselves as one of the loudest and most colorful groups of fans in the league. And in just three-plus seasons, The Wall with the combined strength of The Ruckus and the Iron Lion Firm has given Orlando City Stadium a reputation as one of the most intense places for visiting teams to play. Through the first few weeks of the season, neither fan base had much to cheer about. Last week Orlando City finally broke through with a thrilling 4 - 3 victory over the Red Bulls, but the Timbers are still looking for their first win of the season. Below are a few of the players that I expect to play important roles in determining whether Portland can steal a road victory or if Orlando City will make it two wins in a row at home.
Players to Watch - Orlando City
- Dom Dwyer - In his first start of the season, Dwyer scored two goals against the Red Bulls in 64 minutes of action and put all three of his shots on target during the match. The dual threat of Justin Meram and Dwyer at the top of the formation along with Sacha Kljestan at the number 10 position means opponents need to be wary of multiple scoring threats pushing up the pitch on every possession. If Coach Jason Kreis will abandon his favored 4-4-2 diamond formation in favor of a wider formation that makes use of the full width of the pitch, it's not hard to imagine Dwyer finding more gaps in the defense and keeping up the threat on Portland's goal this weekend.
- Justin Meram - Meram has yet to score on the young season, but he has registered two assists and has been very active taking shots in the first few matches. It feels like only a matter of time before he puts a ball into the net, and I have a feeling that will break open the floodgates for him. Once he starts scoring it will take even more attention off of Dwyer as defenses try desperately to counter all the scoring threats that Orlando City has on the pitch.
- Josue Colman - Colman recorded his first MLS goal against the Red Bulls but has yet to crack the Starting XI lineup. He came on at the half for midfielder Cam Lindley, and in 45 minutes of play he completed 10 passes and scored. Colman's energy and presence were felt from the moment he stepped on the pitch, and the young Peruvian national will fast become even more of a crowd favorite if he keeps scoring game-winning goals like he did last week. Let's hope he can make it two-for-two against Portland!
Players to Watch - Portland Timbers
- Sebastian Blanco - Blanco has scored three goals and registered one assist for Portland this season. He also has 10 shots with six on target, putting him at the top of the scoring chart in three categories for his side. Blanco is a skilled dribbler and executes both passes and through balls with precision. He favors playing long balls forward and tactically he likes cutting in from the wing.
- Diego Valeri - Valeri has a goal in four appearances so far this season. He is off to a slow start, but Valeri capable of scoring plenty--he led the Timbers with 21 goals last season. He is a strong finisher and plays through balls and crosses with great ability. If he is permitted to get on the end of some well-placed balls he could make Orlando City pay. Portland won't play their first match until a week after visiting Orlando, and it will be just fine with me if he waits until playing back in the Pacific Northwest for his season to come alive.
- Fanendo Adi - Adi is another Portland player who is off to a slow start after scoring double-digit goals in 2017. He has yet to score this season, but he has registered two assists so far. Adi is a talented finisher who also has a knack for winning aerial duels, though he often gets himself offside and can be goaded into committing reckless fouls.
Which players will you be watching closely from Orlando City on Sunday afternoon? Who are the most important players from Portland that the home side will need to keep in check to defend home turf? Let me know in the comments below!