The time has almost come. Tomorrow, Orlando City will play in its first final since joining Major League Soccer when it takes on the Portland Timbers in the MLS is Back Tournament final.
To prepare for the monumental occasion, I spoke with Grant Little of Stumptown Footy and he was kind enough to tell me what Lions fans should expect from the Timbers in tomorrow’s match.
Portland has been pretty good this tournament, especially offensively — the team has scored at least twice in all but one of its games. What’s been most impressive to you about the Timbers offensively? How have they been so successful at putting the ball in the net?
Grant Little: I think Portland’s offensive success stems from its defensive stability. Portland has been relatively good in defense despite giving away almost a penalty a game. The midfield duo of Eryk Williamson and Diego Chara are crucial because they win the ball back and launch transition opportunities. The midfielders also lessen the defensive responsibilities of Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco. The two Argentines have been immense throughout the tournament. Especially Blanco, who has three goals and five assists and is my pick for tournament MVP.
They are also dangerous because they have so many players that are great at providing the dagger ball and can put the ball in the back of the net. Valeri and Blanco are the main creators, but Jeremy Ebobisse has been having the tournament of his life. His counterpart, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, has contributed goals and assists as well.
Overall, the Timbers have a lot of potential threats and also have a couple of players that can have a moment of brilliance when the offense isn’t clicking. That is why they have been so dangerous throughout the tournament.
What’s Portland’s preferred style of play? What should Orlando City fans expect to see when the Timbers have the ball?
GL: Portland usually sets up in a 4-2-3-1 when it has the ball. It can also morph into a 4-4-2 with Ebobisse and Valeri leading the line. The 4-4-2 is how they line up in defense. Portland is extremely comfortable without the ball. The Timbers have only had the majority of possession in their matches against the Houston Dynamo and FC Cincinnati.
The Timbers sit in a medium to low block and invite the opposition to push forward. Then they pick when and who to press and try to jump passing lanes. After winning the ball, they immediately look to release Valeri, Blanco, or Ebobisse in space to start the break.
What do you believe the biggest weakness is for this Timbers team? What’s the area that Orlando City should look to exploit?
GL: The Timbers are also good in possession as shown against the stubborn Cincinnati defense. But when the Timbers have the ball and are in need of a goal, they have a tendency to commit too many players forward and are left vulnerable on the counter attack.
Another weakness they have shown is defending in their own 18-yard box. They have given away five penalties in their six games. They also struggled toward the end of the match against the Philadelphia Union. The Union thought they had tied the match after slotting home a second goal amidst some chaotic defending in the box, but Portland escaped due to a very tight offside call.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
GL: There are no suspensions. Yimmi Chara was not included in the squad against Philadelphia because of a knock. I’m unsure if he will be fit for the final.
Starting 11: Steve Clark, Jorge Villafaña, Dario Zuparic, Larrys Mabiala, Chris Duvall, Eryk Williamson, Diego Chara, Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Marvin Loria, Jeremy Ebobisse.
Prediction: Timbers win 2-1, with goals from Blanco, Ebobisse, and Nani.
Thanks again to Grant for the insightful look at the Timbers. Vamos Orlando!