It’s Friday yet again party people, and that means that another Orlando City game is almost upon us. It’s a packed weekend for soccer with the Orlando Pride, Orlando City B, the United States Men’s National Team, and the Lions all playing. For now, we zero in on OCSC’s opponent on Sunday, the Portland Timbers.
It’s been a tough start to the season for Portland, as three of the four teams the Timbers have played are fifth or higher in the Western Conference, with the lone exception being last year’s Supporters Shield winners. With that being the case, what do you make of the results the team has gotten up to this point?
Sam Svilar: The schedule makers definitely threw the Timbers into the thick of it with their opening slate of games, especially as you said with many of their opening games being against teams that they will presumably be battling against at the sticky end of the season.
That being said, up until last week the Timbers have handled their early season schedule remarkably well. A bevy of injuries and form issues have kept many of their best players from seeing the field, which includes the leading goal scorer from last year in Felipe Mora, their top playmaker in Sebastian Blanco, and their starting center back duo that anchored the back line to an appearance in MLS Cup. And despite those losses, the Timbers have gotten results: draws against the Revolution at home and LAFC in LA, and an important home win against a revamped Austin FC.
The most impressive part of those results has been how the Timbers have gotten them. They’ve shown a great amount of resilience over the start of the year, coming back from a goal down twice in the home opener and dang near snatching a win in LA after defending for their lives down a man after a red card. They’ve shown grit, determination, and a good deal of skill to get results despite being down 3-4 presumptive starters. The first three weeks of the season were pretty neat.
Of course, the 4-1 faceplant in Frisco against FC Dallas last weekend took a lot of the shine off of this opening season stretch. That game, and the first half in particular, was like the antithesis of the ways Portland has been playing all year — lack of urgency, lack of grit, and just losing individual battles way too easily. Portland never plays well in Texas, so the hope is that that game was more of “just a bad day at the office” and not the start of a more worrying trend.
Obviously, Diego Valeri is no longer with the team, something that feels strange even as a fan of another team. How has the team tried to replace him?
SS: Still not over this emotional and beautiful goodbye Valeri penned to Portland when he left:
— Diego Valeri (@DiegoDv8) January 20, 2022
Valeri’s departure, and the fact that he couldn’t go out with a trophy, hurts. The reality though is that the impact of his departure is more sentimental than on-field. Valeri’s role on the team diminished in 2021, to the point where he became more of a late-game super sub off the bench.
Gradually, the team turned to become more reliant on Blanco. His dynamism unlocks so many facets of Portland’s attack, and whether he is scoring goals himself or providing assists, Blanco has been the main playmaker for the Timbers in the attack.
However, the start of 2022 has been marked by Blanco not being quite 100% game fit. He has yet to start a match (although he might on Sunday), and hasn’t quite rounded into his full form on the field.
In his stead, it’s been Yimmi Chara taking the playmaking reigns for the Timbers. Less of a traditional attacking midfielder and more of a lively presser and passer, Yimmi likes to drift to one side of the field to create overloads, and have quick interplay with the ball between the wingers and forwards at the top of the box. He’s tallied two goals (yes, both of them bicycle kicks) and two assists to start the season, so he’s been doing an admirable job.
Still, the Timbers (and Yimmi) are better when Blanco is on the field. The attack won’t feel whole until he’s fully back.
It’s still very early in the season but what do you think the expectations should be for the Timbers?
SS: When you look at the roster, you realize that it is basically the same team that came within a couple penalty kicks from winning it all last year. So reaching that summit has to be this team’s goal: trophies or bust.
The Timbers are still squarely in a championship window. When Diego Chara, Blanco, and Mora are all on their game, then Portland can go toe to toe with basically any team in the league. They have steadily gotten younger with their new additions, particularly U-22 signings Santiago Moreno and David Ayala, in a move that both builds depth and also extends that window just a bit more.
For a team that won the MLS Back Tournament and made two MLS Cup finals in the last four years, the expectation is squarely on adding more silverware to the trophy case.
Are there any injuries, suspensions or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
SS: The only international absence this window is Bill Tuiloma. He’s started Portland’s last four games, and so that’s one player who has been relied upon to start absent. Thankfully, Dario Zuparic is healthy and came off the bench in Portland’s last game, and is likely in line to make his first start of the season.
As for injuries, striker Felipe Mora is still out recovering from knee surgery. Midfielder Eryk Williamson, once in the mix with the U.S. Men’s National Team, has been recovering from a torn ACL suffered last fall. The rumors are that he could be getting his first minutes since then on Sunday.
Lineup prediction (4-2-3-1): Aljaz Ivacic; Josecarlos Van Rankin, Zac McGraw, Dario Zuparic, Claudio Bravo; Diego Chara, Cristhian Paredes; Santiago Moreno, Yimmi Chara, Dairon Asprilla; Jaroslaw Niezgoda.
Score prediction: I think Portland responds from last week, especially now being back at home. We see the same motivation and focus that marked the beginning of the year return, and Yimmi Chara continues to pull the strings well. It won’t be perfect, but it will get the job done. 2-1 Portland.
Big thank you to Sam for the excellent update on Portland. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 3/1/24
Orlando’s girls teams playing in national event this weekend, USWNT will face Colombia, Paul Pogba banned for four years, and more.
Welcome to March! It always feels like a good sign when a month starts on a Friday. Spring may not officially be here, but it definitely feels like winter is truly behind us. I plan on getting plenty of spring cleaning done this weekend before a fairly busy month. Let’s get this month started with today’s links!
ECNL Girls National Event Kicks Off Today
Some of the best youth soccer players are coming to Florida this weekend for the Elite Club National League’s spring event at Lakewood Ranch. It’s a great chance for clubs to play teams outside of their conference and there are plenty of scouts to impress as well. Orlando City will have four youth teams take part and each team will play at least three games over the three days. Orlando’s G07 squad has notably won five of its eight games in conference play and will take on Real Colorado National today. Orlando’s squads in the other age groups have some strong opponents lined up as well, so it should be a great experience for the club.
USWNT Will Face Colombia in Concacaf W Gold Cup
After finishing second in its group after a loss to Mexico, the United States Women’s National Team will take on Colombia this Sunday in the Concacaf W Gold Cup quarterfinals. The U.S. and Colombia squared off in friendlies last fall, with the teams playing to a scoreless draw in Utah before the U.S. won 3-0 in San Diego a few days later. Colombia also finished second in its group, conceding just once so far this tournament. The winner of Sunday’s match will play whichever team advances from tomorrow’s game between Canada and Costa Rica. On the other side of the bracket, Orlando Pride players square off when Rafaelle, Adriana, and Brazil play Mariana Larroquette and Argentina tomorrow. The winner of that match will play the victor between Mexico and Paraguay.
Portland Timbers Cut Ties With Jersey Sponsor
The Portland Timbers have dropped DaBella Exteriors as their jersey sponsor amid allegations that the company’s CEO, Donnie McMillan, Jr., sexually harassed employees. The accusations did not become public until Feb. 23 and the Timbers have removed DaBella’s image from their website as well. It makes sense that the Timbers would want to distance themselves from this. There was an investigation by U.S. Soccer in 2022 regarding former Portland Thorns head coach Paul Riley, and the club was also fined by MLS for not reporting an incident of alleged domestic violence involving former Timbers player Andy Polo in a timely manner. DaBella replaced Alaska Airlines as the team’s shirt sponsor for this season and the Timbers will now go without one until a new sponsor is chosen.
Paul Pogba Banned for Four Years
After testing positive for testosterone while playing for Juventus, French midfielder Paul Pogba was banned for the maximum four years by Italy’s anti-doping court. In response to the ruling, Pogba stated that the verdict was “incorrect” and that he will appeal this decision.
“I am sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built in my professional playing career has been taken away from me,” Pogba said. “When I am free of legal restrictions the full story will become clear, but I have never knowingly or deliberately taken any supplements that violate anti-doping regulations.”
It’s fair to wonder just where this news leaves his career if his appeal is denied and he serves the full ban. Pogba turns 31 later this month and he is still under contract with Juventus through 2026, although this ban may obviously change that. Injuries have limited him in recent years as well, as he missed out on the most recent World Cup with France.
- Toronto FC signed English midfielder Matty Longstaff to a contract through the 2025 season. Longstaff has previous played for Newcastle United and should help improve a Toronto team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2020.
- LA Galaxy midfielder Mark Delgado’s second yellow card he received in his team’s opener has been rescinded and he’s eligible for Saturday’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Delgado was sent off while the Galaxy were up against Inter Miami, and the Herons then went on to score and leave with a point.
- The New England Revolution beat Independiente to advance to the Concacaf Champions Cup’s round of 16.
- Bay FC forward Racheal Kundananji had to exit Zambia’s Olympic qualifier against Ghana due to an injury.
- The United States Men’s National Team’s next away kit was reportedly leaked and it sure is something. It’s like a Bomb Pop got mixed into the team’s laundry.
- The USL Super League’s Fort Lauderdale United unveiled its branding and the colors are pretty nice. However, the logo has a bit too much alphabet soup going on for my liking.
- An Atletico Madrid supporter was arrested for racially abusing an eight-year-old who was wearing a Vinicius Junior jersey last year. I’m glad they were able to find the person responsible for this. It’s disgusting behavior that needs to be removed from the sport.
- Vladimir Petkovic was hired as Algeria’s next head coach and will manage the team through 2026 World Cup qualifying. Algeria failed to make it out of the group stage of the recent Africa Cup of Nations and has not qualified for the past two World Cups.
- Grace Wilson became the first Australian soccer player to come out as non-binary. Hopefully this helps make things a little easier for other athletes wishing to come out in the future.
- Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn was named as a part owner of the Utah Royals.
- Wayne Rooney stated that he wants to manage either Manchester United or Everton in the next 10 years. He was just fired by Birmingham City in January.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Orlando City at Inter Miami: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to defeat Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale this Saturday?
This Saturday Orlando City travels to Fort Lauderdale to take on in-state rival Inter Miami. Despite having to pay for a part of Lionel Messi’s salary, the Lions will not get to have him play any time for Orlando City, which is kind of messed up, isn’t it? Regardless, the Lions will look to maintain their undefeated start to the year with a win down South.
What does Orlando City need to do to bring home all three points from Chase Stadium?
Get a Midfielder on Messi
It isn’t easy to stop Messi, but that is what defensive midfielders Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena must do in this match. They are arguably the best defensive midfield pairing in MLS and will need to prove it against one of the best to ever play the game. When Orlando City played Messi and Miami in the U.S. Open Cup last year, they were able to frustrate him and he should have been sent off just before halftime for a second yellow-worthy foul he committed to stop Araujo from getting to a loose ball first to start the counter. He is very entitled and doesn’t like being challenged by the likes of those two. Doing so smartly will be the key because of our next key below.
Don’t Give the Refs Anything
MLS and the referees will never admit that they made calls that benefit Miami and Messi in particular, but that’s because they want us to not believe our lying eyes. It’s unfair and wrong, but also a fact of life. As such, the Lions need to make sure that they don’t do anything even remotely close to the type of foul that will allow the refs to swing things the Herons’ way. Of course, that might not stop them from doing so, but playing clean and smart is the best chance to limit the impact the officiating has on the match. Balancing that will being aggressive enough to stop them will be tricky to say the least.
Score, Score, Score
You can be sure we will see a first-choice lineup from Oscar Pareja this Saturday. That means that the Lions need to press for goals early and often. Score enough goals and the referees can’t hurt you. Whether it’s Duncan McGuire, Facundo Torres, Luis Muriel, Ivan Angulo, Nico Lodeiro, or even Kyle Smith, the team needs to put the ball in the back of the net. Getting the early lead — especially if it’s two goals — will mean a lot to the flow of the game. Once again, I don’t particularly care where those goals come from, just that they happen.
That is what I will be looking for this Saturday. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/29/24
Lions reportedly won’t play in U.S. Open Cup, Cavalry FC reflects on its defeat, gauging the USWNT’s panic meter, and more.
Happy Leap Day, Mane Landers! It’s the rarest day of the year, as we all lean into our procrastination a bit and collectively tell March that we’ll get to it tomorrow. It’s been a pretty busy week for me, but knowing the MLS season is in full swing has helped fuel me a bit. Let’s dive into today’s links!
Orlando City Reportedly Won’t Play in 2024 U.S. Open Cup
The latest reports involving Major League Soccer’s participation in this year’s U.S. Open Cup indicate that Orlando City, along with a majority of MLS teams, won’t be playing their first teams in the tournament. According to ESPN‘s Jeff Carlisle, the Houston Dynamo and the seven best teams from last season that aren’t taking part in the Concacaf Champions Cup will have their first teams take part. The format will reportedly be announced soon and we’ll see if Orlando City B and other MLS NEXT Pro teams will be in the tournament.
It will be pretty disappointing if Orlando’s first team doesn’t end up playing. Even though the Lions suffered an early exit last year, they won in 2022 and Head Coach Oscar Pareja has a penchant for excelling in the U.S. Open Cup.
Cavalry FC Reflects on Loss to Orlando City
Although Cavalry FC lost in both legs against Orlando City in its first Concacaf Champions Cup campaign, the Canadian club can hold its head high. Cavalry Head Coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. spoke on the team’s tactics in the second leg in Orlando to overcome the hefty aggregate deficit.
“Strategically, we wanted to frustrate them in the first half with an extra defender, and often at times we were in a back five,” Wheeldon said. “And second half, we wanted to unleash with more attackers and have a go, because it was 0-0. We thought … one, we wanted to make history with our first goal, and two, we wanted to get a result here.”
That first goal did come with Myer Bevan making some history for his team to take back to Canada. All in all, Cavalry did pretty well as the underdog and it’s unfortunate it didn’t get a true home game in Calgary. Cavalry’s defense is the real deal and I doubt this is the last time it makes an appearance in the Champions Cup.
Assessing the Fallout From the USWNT’s Defeat
The United States Women’s National Team suffered a shocking defeat to Mexico earlier this week that’s brought on varying levels of panic. The clock is ticking before the Olympics and the USWNT struggled to bounce back after trailing in the first half and had difficulties on both sides of the ball. While the issues at center back will likely be solved once Naomi Girma and Tierna Davidson play, the midfield has plenty of question marks and a weird balance of youth and experience. It’s an awkward stage for the USWNT, as Emma Hayes doesn’t arrive until May and won’t have much time to get the team ready for Paris. Of course, the USWNT could still win this tournament and the return of Mallory Swanson may heal most wounds this summer, leaving this loss as just a minor blemish when the year is up. Only time will tell and the USWNT has plenty of opportunity to right the ship.
FA Cup Quarterfinals Are Set
It was a pretty wild day in the FA Cup, with some of England’s top teams fighting their way into the quarterfinals. Chelsea needed a late winner from Conor Gallagher to beat Leeds United 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United’s match against Nottingham Forest also had a dramatic finish, as United’s Casemiro scored the game’s only goal in the 89th minute. Wolverhampton ousted Brighton thanks to an early goal, and Liverpool got the job done against Southampton.
In the quarterfinals, Newcastle will travel to take on Manchester City, Wolverhampton will host the second division’s Conventry City, Chelsea will take on Leicester City, and Manchester United will face off against Liverpool. All four matches will take place on March 16.
- After getting married, Orlando Pride defender Emily Madril will have a new name on the back of her jersey this season.
- Former Pride midfielder Becky Edwards is an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee and shared details about her time as both a player and coach with the U.S. U-20 team.
- Enjoy this captured moment of Orlando midfielder Wilder Cartagena being awesome.
- LAFC forward Mateusz Bogusz’s strike against the Seattle Sounders won the first MLS Goal of the Matchday of the season, claiming 35.4% of the vote.
- FC Cincinnati beat Cavalier 4-0 in the Champions Cup to advance to the round of 16, where it will take on Brandon Vazquez and Monterrey.
- Spain beat France 2-0 to win the inaugural Women’s Nations League final, with Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey both scoring.
- American midfielder Johnny Cardoso was named La Liga’s U-23 Player of the Month after a strong February with Real Betis.
- After missing the past weekend, American forward Folarin Balogun will no longer be taking penalty kicks for AS Monaco.
- Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly the frontrunners to land striker Victor Osimhen, who just had a hat trick in Napoli’s 6-1 win over Sassuolo.
- Former Manchester United defender John O’Shea will serve as Ireland’s interim head coach for a pair of friendlies in March.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a pretty great Leap Day and that the rest of the week goes smoothly.
Lion Links: 3/1/24
Orlando City at Inter Miami: Three Keys to Victory
Lion Links: 2/29/24
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