The March international break was a lively one for American soccer, but a restful one for its championship club. With a full two weeks off, the Portland Timbers spent time integrating new players and taking stock of an uneven start to the 2016 MLS season.
The Timbers made their longest road-trip of the season to Orlando on Friday, where they'll play for the first time at the Citrus Bowl tomorrow (4:00 PM, TV on FOX Sports 1). Sitting on a 1-1-1 record, the match in Florida will kick off a busy month of April for the Timbers — one that will set the stage for the summer to come.
Orlando joined MLS in 2015, and the club's trip to Providence Park last year in April was one of the most successful of the club's debut season. Orlando — starting former Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts — blanked the Timbers 2-0 for their first top-flight road win in franchise history.
It was a wire-to-wire victory — Cyle Larin scored the first goal of what became a Rookie of the Year campaign midway through the first half, and Kaka added a late penalty to kill the game off — and it came in large part because of a game-plan from Orlando coach Adrian Heath that totally flummoxed Caleb Porter.
The game stands out in Porter's mind as one of the few in which he's been out-coached, and the best bet is that he'll be ready for the rematch this Sunday. This game will be Portland's first trip to Orlando, and only trip to the venerable Citrus Bowl — a stadium that has been the scene of plenty of drama in its short time on the MLS circuit. The club's new stadium is set to open next year.
With one major exception in Liam Ridgewell, the Timbers are healthy and deeper than they have been all season. The big selection question comes at left-back. Chris Klute, the projected starter coming into the season, has finally been cleared to play after going through several scrimmages with T2.
Also available will be Jack Barmby, the Leicester City product who the Timbers acquired on loan several weeks ago. Barmby has been extremely impressive in training — even surprisingly so — and can be used either in defense or midfield. The incumbent at left-back, who hasn't exactly set hearts aflutter, is Zarek Valentin.
It's anyone's guess who Porter will use on Sunday. There are rationale's for all three players. It is worth noting, however, that Porter still seems somewhat unconvinced by Klute's fitness levels. With Ridgewell still out, Jermiane Taylor and Nat Borchers will be looking for a convincing performance after struggling somewhat against San Jose and Real Salt Lake in March.
Further up the field, the Timbers' front six should remain unchanged. Orlando is set for a boost with the 2016 debut of star and captain Kaka. In former Brazil striker Julio Baptista, the Lions have a potential debutant of their own. He may appear off the bench.
12 - Kwarasey
2 - Powell
4 - Taylor
7 - Borchers
23 - Barmby
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri (C)
11 - Asprilla
26 - Melano
9 - Adi
Expect an exciting game, and expect goals. The Timbers are leading the league in chances created per game, and Fanendo Adi should have plenty of success against Orlando's rookie center-back Tommy Redding. But, unlike last year, Portland's defense is suspect. This game will finish as another 2-2 draw.