I've said earlier this week that I consider Portland to be a dangerous opponent, partly because they are hungry and winless, and partly because of their roster. Portland retained its top scorers from last season--a season in which the team scored 60 goals, the fourth highest total in all of MLS. Returning to the Timbers this season is 2017 MLS MVP Diego Valeri, who scored 21 goals last season. Also returning are Fanendo Adi (10 goals) and Sebastian Blanco (eight goals). This year the Timbers have only four goals in total on the season, and Blanco has the early team lead with three goals.
Portland did change head coaches, so they are adapting to the tactics and system of manager Giovanni Savarese. Watching footage from their earlier matches, their defense has struggled to be organized, which has led them to give up nine goals, more than any other team except DC United. Many of these scores are from second- and third-chance goals when Portland doesn't collect and clear the ball effectively, losing track of trailing opponents following the play into the penalty area.
Clearly, however, Portland has the capability to score goals in bunches. They finally scored a pair of goals in their last match, and it seems only a matter of time before they put everything together and get going. Their supporters in some ways have to feel as frustrated as Orlando City supporters did through the first few matches of the season until the club won against the New York Red Bulls in the last match.
Speaking of Orlando City, their task now becomes building on the most recent success. Dom Dwyer's return from injury was the spark in the final third that the team needed to score multiple goals for the first time this season. Dwyer himself had a brace, and there were also goals from Will Johnson and Josue Colman, with contributions on the day from Mohamed El-Munir, Justin Meram, Sacha Kljestan, and Scott Sutter.
That kind of multi-goal, multi-contributor offense was what I expected and wanted to see from this team. I predicted in the off-season that with the depth on the roster we might tend to see scoring on the pitch that rivaled the offensive firepower of UCF's college football team in the 2017 season, when quarterback McKenzie Milton had the luxury of as many as 15 different offensive players catching passes and rushing the ball every game. From last season to this season, Orlando City transformed from a team with only 39 goals and 42 assists in 2017 to a team whose roster accounted for no less than 71 goals and 100 assists in the 2017 season. Obviously, not every player on the roster came from MLS, so those totals may not be realistic expectations for this season, but we should certainly expect more from the team. Through four matches, the team already has six goals and seven assists, putting them on pace to score 51 goals and record 60 assists on the season.
When teams go into a winless streak, two things can happen. The first is that they press too hard and try to do too much, which often results in a downward spiral of poor play. The other is that they can revert to focusing on the fundamentals and just try to execute a little better every match. While I would love to hope that Portland will fall into the trap of the former style, I have to predict that with the prowess of their roster they will adopt the latter strategy and begin to pull themselves out of their funk.
I am also not certain that Orlando City has truly turned the corner and put it all together on a regular basis. I am going to have to see the team win consistently in order to have confidence that they have finally started to get it. I believe Orlando City's defense is still susceptible to losing focus, and I think Portland will pounce on those opportunities. I do think Orlando City's scoring will continue to be strong, so I am looking for a draw out of today's match with a 3 - 3 result.
What do you expect from the match this afternoon? Do you believe Orlando City has solved their problems and will add a second straight win to the results table? Or do you think this team is still a work in progress that could leave points on the pitch in the match with Portland? Let me know in the comments below!