Thursday, April 9, 2015

Timbers v. Orlando City Preview; All MLS Preview. PREVIEWS!!

Y'know, I do see the likeness...
Just like every week, I'm trying something new this week. Sure, the Review/Preview served a purpose, but, a brief acknowledgement aside, we're deep enough into the Major League Soccer (MLS) season to be past that. In other words, past the briefest look back at the Portland Timbers previous week's outing, I'll turn my attention to what counts: the team that's a-comin' to town (or, in other weeks, that the Timbers will visit) in the weekend ahead.

After that I'll pass on some quick (promise!) thoughts about the MLS games for upcoming weekend. This space is going full preview, basically. Well, after rounding up the past week's Portland Timbers talk.

It starts with some good-esque news (and old news by now): Diego Valeri is almost, sorta kinda in full training (savor that picture, people, and memories of better, simpler days). As for the rest, the tiny sampling of the Timbers community I visit turned in a muddled sample – which was, perhaps, a mechanism used to cope with the confusing sensation of a first win. One popular statistic pointed to the Timbers' superior capacity for bouncing back after a loss. What stuck out most for me, though, even if I didn't state it directly as I would have liked in the second draft, was how well Portland defended – and all over the field. Other people caught this too (see those links, plus parts of #2). Some players came in for some well-deserved praise, whether it's right back Jorge Villafana, or a much-improved outing for Timbers 'keeper, Adam Kwarasey; MotM fixture Darlington Nagbe picked up the usual praise, but it was nice to see a quiet, solid pro like Villafana get another nod in another space. (Personal Note: someone who joined me for last weekend's game kept referring to Villafana as "George." I liked that.)

The big, satisfying take-away from all that is that Portland will be hard to beat. Now, time to measure that against this weekend's opponent, Orlando City SC. I've seen them 1 1/2 times in 2015. And courtesy of MLSLive's ABSOLUTELY FUCKING WONDERFUL "CONDENSED GAME" FEATURE THAT I ONLY JUST FOUND OUT I HAVE, I was able to take 20+ minute look at Orlando in action. Here's what I saw in that 20+, plus a little of what I know.

Portland Timbers v. Orlando City SC
Scouting Orlando
In the big picture, Orlando has struggled to score since joining MLS. The most common short-hand/knock on this team reduces them to Kaka & Co., a hint that Brazilian star Kaka does all the goddamn work while the rest of the side bumbles after his brilliance. Another Orlando specialty: coughing up late, late game-losers; see Exhibits A (Vancouver Whitecaps) and B (DC United). Now, that's fair and not, seeing as it's something that happened in two games out of their five. Plus, Orlando pulled a late, late goal out of their butts as well in their season opener against New York City FC.

So, I watched the completely awesome condensed game and, golly, they showed evidence of an evolving Orlando side. If no one else, Kevin "Hot Boy" Molino deserves mention for the putting in the kinds of runs Timbers fans know from one Mr. Nagbe. More to the point, Orlando, collectively, produced a butt-ton of decent chances against a DC United team that most rate as stingy. Even when your team's finishing sucks, that's the necessary step one to scoring goals. Of more concern still, the Lions put in a pretty collection of set-pieces as well – I count at least two free headers from memory - and, as expected, Kaka rode challenges, passed wonderfully and generally pulled the strings over most of Orlando’s attacking third.

By way of counter-point, DC didn't look like DC in this one. I've heard it said, recently as last week, that DC without Bill Hamid would be like a car without brakes and Hamid's night fully supported the argument. In other words, Orlando got their chances and it's hard to know where credit to them stops and accusations against DC's defense start. And still DC won. At the death. Go figure.

As for Portland
Orlando picked up a lot of those chances in the run of play, or off corners. Portland, on the other hand, defends pretty damn well in the open field and, hey, the Timbers like to foul before a corner even enters the conversation. Overall, though, put a team that's struggling to score (Orlando) against a team that's defending pretty goddamn well in open play (Portland) and one has to like the latter's chances. Portland's the more complete and more established club besides. As the Timbers have shown in every game this season so far, they can generate chances. Nagbe alone will puzzle the shit out of Orlando's midfield; add Dairon Asprilla late and, lo, useful confusion shall reign. Personally, I think Portland's smaller field and the turf will come into play as well: Orlando made the most of the space in the Citrus Bowl, space they won't have in Providence Park. Overall, the only part of the field leaning in Orlando's direction is Donovan Ricketts getting geeked up to face his former club. So, yeah, feeling a little cocky.

Now, let's move on to the rest of the weekend's matches. Again, briefly. Or thereabouts.

FC Dallas v. Colorado Rapids
Simple as this seems – e.g. a fairly solid defensive team like Dallas squaring at home off against a club that, literally, can't score – but I see promise in the Rapids. And they can defend, too. On top of that, these teams played some epics in the mid-00's. And Colorado came out on top often as not. I expect the Rapids to frustrate Dallas. And that's where their possibilities come in.

New England Revolution v. Columbus Crew SC
This one would have been a hell of a lot more interesting had the Crew not ran themselves dumb mid-week against Vancouver. In Vancouver. The flight alone gives New England the edge. I hear New England's coming together, but I didn't see a ton of that cohesion when I tuned in for their win over Colorado. Still, I give the Revs the edge, and that's down to Juan Agudelo looking like himself again more than anything else.

Philadelphia Union v. New York City FC
The biggest story out of Philly is the Union's decision to send their staring 'keeper to another freakin' country, which translates pretty directly to the argument that this is a damned good chance for NYCFC's to pick up a road win. New New York struggled their last time out absent David Villa. So long as he's back – and he’s not showing in the current injury report – they should be all right.

DC United v. New York Red Bulls
Stinking, savvy DC's (perhaps dated) reputation for grinding out results meets the New York Red Bulls' electric high-press and new-found balance. Apart from having the deepest roots, this sets up as the week's biggest match-up. I like New York in this one...which could just be about liking New York better.

Houston Dynamo v. Montreal Impact
I can't help but think Montreal is utterly spent in the wake of (literally) surviving their trip to Costa Rica for the CONCACAF Champions League. We're talking post-orgasmic. Houston, on the other hand, has been pretty damn feeble in the attack – as in tied for league-worst feeble. One team they're tied with at two goals so far? Yep, Montreal. Then again, Montreal has played three games to Houston's five. My advice: take a pass on this one. Montreal's going to take a rest and so should you.

Sporting Kansas City v. Real Salt Lake
Dueling set-pieces: is that what to expect here? From what I gather, RSL isn't the RSL of old. MLS's former aesthetes have embraced practicality...which, for some reason, translated to piling on the aging shoulders of Javier Morales. The Argentine has been up to it, so far. For their part, KC doesn't score in open play, or so claimed the crew on ExtraTime Radio. Personally, I think KC has the personnel; they're just doing the snake-bit thing, a la Colorado. Dom Dwyer got rolling last weekend, and so did Krisztian Nemeth. For me, this is another one to watch. And more for KC than RSL.

San Jose Earthquakes v. Vancouver Whitecaps
How much better would this game have been without Vancouver playing mid-week? After a couple stunning results, San Jose has come back down to Earth over the past couple weeks. I think their biggest problem will be Vancouver luring them into a rope-a-dope. The (very) brief highlights I've watched has me interested in Adam Jahn, while long-term chatter has me curious about Innocent Emeghara. Another one with potential...and no immediately obvious winner.

Los Angeles Galaxy v. Seattle Sounders
To the astonishment of all, and the delight of many, LA has had a shitty start to the season. (Ha ha ha!) While Seattle hasn't been great shakes, necessarily, they still possess the potent pairing of Deuce and Oba (that's Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins to the uninitiated; both whose names I wish started with "p"). While I think Gonzalo Pineda being out will bite more deeply into Plan A than most people think, LA has far more to figure out than Seattle. And that should give the Sounders the edge, even on the road.

OK, that's it. Done in under three pages. Looking forward to the weekend. Enjoy!

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