For the fifth time in five games this season, the Timbers hit the road. This time, it's the furthest road trip they'll take, heading all the way to Orlando to take on Orlando City in the last game of the Construction Extravaganza Road Show they've been on since the start of the season.
Said road show hasn't been too kind to the Timbers - two draws in four games - but the team has looked markedly better in the last two games than in the first two. A win in Orlando would give them five points after five games, which isn't a house-on-fire pace but is at least a decent way to finish out a really, really tough stretch of games.
Orlando City, meanwhile, just picked up their first win of the season last week, a 4-3 win over the Red Bulls, which puts them at four points on the season. Like the Timbers, they're trying to find their best selves after some big name changes over the winter - unlike the Timbers, though, their big name changes were more additive than subtractive.
Specifically, they added Sacha Kljestan, who along with Dom Dwyer represent a reasonably good-sized statement of intent that Orlando City is trying to establish themselves among the big boys of MLS this year. Adding Oriol Rosell and Lamine Sané has raised a lot of expectations in Orlandoland (I'm making that a thing) that this year will be the year that transition happens and OCSC stays part of the title conversation in MLS from year to year.
The Timbers would love nothing more, meanwhile, than to shut down former captain Will Johnson and get that first 2018 win. The long road trip has taken a toll - flying coach cross-country 10 times in five weeks will do that to anyone, pro athlete or no - but after this game, five of the Timbers' next seven games are at home, with only quick trips to San Jose and Denver on the flight plan.
If they can gut out a win in Orlando, this next stretch of games sets up really nicely for the Timbers to start climbing the table the way they wanted to three weeks ago. With reigning league MVP Diego Valeri starting to look like his old self last week, and Sebastian Blanco picking up a lot of Valeri's slack in the meantime, hopefully, this game will get Fanendo Adi and the rest of the offense back on track as well.
Of course, the offense isn't really the biggest problem right now - the tendency of the defense to switch off has killed the Timbers a few times already this season. It remains to be seen whether erstwhile captain Liam Ridgewell traveled this weekend and, if so, what his role will be, but even without Ridgewell, the Timbers' back line has enough quality that they should be giving up fewer goals than they do.
I talked last week about mental strength, and at the end of a road slog like this, the Timbers will need every ounce of that mental strength to get a result in Orlando this weekend.
TEAM NEWS/PREDICTED LINEUPS
Neither the Timbers nor the Lions are particularly beat up right now - David Guzman's still out for the Timbers, and Oriol Rosell is out for OCSC, but for the most part both teams are healthy. The two questions for the Timbers are at goalkeeper and center back - at GK, Jake Gleeson's job seems to be safe but that's also seemingly a week-to-week decision.
At CB, as mentioned, there's The Ridgewell Question. I think Gleeson gets the start again this week - he played well last week, and while neither he nor Jeff Attinella is top-five keepers in the league as a whole, Gleeson's solid enough to keep Attinella on the bench for at least another week. I would be skeptical if Ridgewell got a start, even if he travels; Bill Tuiloma has been playing well and is younger and healthier.
Gleeson; Powell, Mabiala, Tuiloma, Farfan; Flores, Chará, Paredes; Valeri, Blanco; Adi
Bendik; Sutter, Sane, Tarek, El-Munir; Johnson, Lindley, Yotun, Kljestan; Meram, Dwyer
Timbers v. Orlando City SC
Orlando City Stadium, Orlando FL
Sunday, April 8, 2018
1 PM PT/4PM ET
TV: ESPN (national broadcast)