One match is an aberration. Two matches is a direction. If Orlando City can get a result in three straight road matches, I will feel confident calling it a trend.
In the 2 - 0 win over DC United and the 3 - 3 draw at Atlanta United, Orlando City's midseason roster moves seem to be coming to some fruition. Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin have combined on goals, and Yoshimar Yotun is providing assists to help set up scoring. Dillon Powers also seems to be getting more comfortable with his new teammates and is playing well with Orlando City.
Now Orlando City has to travel all the way across the country and play at Portland, which has one of the most passionate fan bases in the MLS and boasts a player on a historic hot streak in Diego Valeri. The fan in me clings to even the faintest glimmer of hope as long as the team is not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Right now they are on 35 points with 5 matches left, with a potential point total of 50. At the moment 3rd place Chicago is on 48 points, so there is room for Orlando City to climb above the red line (though they will need help from other teams above them failing to score points in the last month of the season).
The pragmatist in me realizes that with five matches left in the season it's unrealistic to expect that the team will recover from the hole they dug themselves with lackluster play and lazy performances through the heart of the season. While I don't think a draw helps them in this game, a draw is always a good road result in MLS and it's unrealistic to expect more from Sunday night's match.
Players to Watch
Portland features a number of potent strikers and playmakers. Diego Valeri leads the team with 18 goals and nine assists, and he set a new MLS record by scoring in his eighth consecutive match last weekend. He and the hometown fans will be wanting that streak to be extended at home so they can celebrate a new record total on the home pitch. Fanendo Adi has 10 goals and three assists on the season, and Caleb Porter said during the week that Adi would return to training on Friday and may be available to play some minutes from the bench after missing six straight matches with an injury. In addition, Sebastian Blanco has five goals and seven assists on the season, Darlington Nagbe has three goals and four assists, and David Guzman (listed as questionable with a quad injury) has added one goal along with six assists.
For much of the season, Orlando City was a one-trick pony, with most of the scoring coming from the foot, head, or chest of Cyle Larin (12 goals and two assists) with a few goals added by Carlos Rivas (five goals and five assists) and Kaka (four goals and five assists). Other than these, Giles Barnes (three goals and two assists), and Dom Dwyer (two goals and two assists) are the only other active multi-goal scorers on the roster. But as stated earlier, Yoshi Yotun and Dillon Powers are starting to show their quality in matches and I hope the team will be able to maintain the chemistry they have developed during the off-season. My one fear going forward is knowing that Jason Kreis still has a number of roster moves he needs to make in the off-season to continue building a team that will best execute his game plan and be able to implement his strategic vision successfully. If this means losing some key players or having a large number of roster changes between November and March, I am concerned with seeing another prolonged period of adjustment at the beginning of next season before the team starts playing as a cohesive unit.
Portland has played tough at home. They only have two home losses on the season. On the other hand, they have also struggled to win consistently at home, with three home wins in a row being their longest such streak of the year. So it's not inconceivable that the Timbers could revert to form and split the points with a visitor at home. Orlando City's improved play in the last two games is encouraging, but I'm not sure it qualifies as a streak just yet that can be counted on to predict future results. Still, I'm going to ignore the pragmatist for today and let hope guide my prediction. That's why I'm predicting a 3 - 2 win today for Orlando City.
What about you--are you encouraged by the better play of the Lions in recent weeks? Do you think Orlando City can get a much-needed road win tonight in Portland? Or do you think the Timbers will defend their home pitch against the visitors tonight? Let me know in the comments below!