Anticipation filled the Florida air all week about the visit of the MLS Champion Portland Timbers to Orlando. This weekend saw the kickoff of the season for three other pro teams in Florida, the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Miami FC. However, even at those games Saturday night, conversation tended to drift towards the Timbers facing Orlando City Sunday night in front of a national television audience on Fox Sports 1.
The match marked the return of Kaká who was injured for the first three matches of the Lions 2016 MLS’ campaign. It didn’t take long for the Brazilian legend to make an impact when he sent a beautiful free kick into the area in minute 13 which was met by Seb Hines to give Orlando an early 1-0 lead.
Orlando struck again in Minute 32 when Brek Shea, playing as a left back beat Alvas Powell for pace turning him inside and shooting from distance. Shea in booking one of the goals of the season in MLS with his left foot beating the keeper to the far post, doubled the Lions lead and sent the Citrus Bowl crowd into a frenzy.
Ten minutes late Portland was awarded a controversial penalty kick for a handball, but Fanendo Adi who was previously perfect this campaign as the Timbers spot kick taker hit a weak shot to the left and Lions keeper Joe Bendik saved it easily. Following the penalty miss an opportunity for Portland which fell to Diego Valeri one of the most influential attacking midfielders in the league was cleared by Tommy Redding.
Young left back Jack Barmby, who was brought in by Portland on loan from English Premier League leaders Leicester City last month looked out of sorts for much of the first half, inviting pressure from a surging Kevin Molino and Rafael Ramos down the right side of Orlando’s attack.
Just after halftime, Kaká made it 3-0 finishing after a nice layoff from Adrian Winter, the hero of the opening game fightback to a 2-2 draw against Real Salt Lake, four weeks ago.
Portland tried to sustain pressure from about minute 60 onward but some poor touches and bad finishing denied the Timbers and opportunity to close the gap. Against the run of play Orlando drew a penalty in minute 76 and Molino booked the fourth goal for the Lions from the spot.
Darlington Nagbe who since gaining US citizenship late last year has become an integral part of the US men’s National Team had an off game working with Valeri in Portland’s midfield. Equally poor today for Portland was Diego Chara, considered one of the best holding midfield players in the league.
The Timbers finally pulled one back in minute 89, when Jack McInerney scored a consolation goal after a mixup defensively for Orlando City. The game ended minutes later with the Lions running out 4-1 winners.
Portland is widely seen as the city in the United States with the most passionate and sophisticated soccer supporters. But Orlando’s crowd of over 31,000 today could give them a run for their money. Tonight’s atmosphere was among the best at the Citrus Bowl since the Lions moved to MLS and no doubt many in the national TV audience took note.
The Lions next game is in Philadelphia against the Union on Friday night.