Orlando City striker Dom Dwyer celebrates with teammates after the Lions' win over the New York Red Bulls Saturday at Orlando City Stadium. (Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports)
For the first time this season, Orlando City is looking to put together back-to-back wins.
The Lions (1-2-1, 4 points) got their first win of the season last week against the New York Red Bulls and a weight was lifted off the shoulders of a club with lofty expectations to start the season.
Of course, for coach Jason Kreis, now it’s time to build momentum. That means stringing together wins and making the climb back up the Eastern Conference table after dropping eight points through the club’s first three matches.
Orlando City takes on the Portland Timbers next in a 4 p.m. Sunday match that’ll be broadcast on ESPN.
The Timbers (0-2-2, 2 points) are off to a rough start, but they haven’t had the luxury of a home match yet.
“I think we all have such a tendency to get so caught up in results and not look past that,” Kreis said. “Portland doesn’t have a win, but Portland hasn’t played a home game. And Portland’s had to travel tremendous distances to play their four matches.”
Portland’s attack, which put up 60 goals in 2017, good for fourth in MLS last season, has yet to come alive this season. The Timbers are tied for 19th in the league with just four goals through four matches and a minus-five goal differential.
Still, the Timbers have the players to put goals on the scoresheet. Midfielder Diego Valeri, the 2017 MLS MVP, had 21 goals last season. Target striker Fanendo Adi had 10 goals last season and Sebastian Blanco had eight goals in his first campaign with the Timbers in 2017.
Blanco has three of the Timbers four 2018 goals.
“If you look at the performances, you see a quality, quality side there with some very gifted attacking players in Valeri and Blanco and Adi up top and guys that are joining in from the midfield and outside backs who both get forward very well. It’s an extremely dangerous team we’re facing on Sunday,” Kreis said.
“We know that we need a result. We know that we need to start going here. We know that we need to be able to win matches in a row. You need to get on winning streaks in order to do anything in this league and that’s our intent.”
Captain and center back Jonathan Spector, who missed the club’s victory over the Red Bulls, said scoring four goals was huge. Orlando City had scored just two goals coming into the match, and the return of striker Dom Dwyer to the starting XI fueled an offensive barrage for the Lions.
Spector said the mood in training has been more upbeat since the Lions beat the Red Bulls.
“You always want to win the first game, right?” he said. “We didn’t. We got a draw, which isn’t necessarily a bad result, especially after having a man sent off in the first [half]. Two tough games followed after that when we didn’t pick up points.
“The longer that goes on without a win, the more difficult it gets. The more pressure there is. Getting that win was huge. It’s a little bit more relaxed and the guys are playing a bit more freely.”
The Timbers are also in their first season under coach Giovanni Savarese.
“They’ve changed a little bit, the system they’re playing in, so we need to be weary of that,” Spector said.
Orlando City has a few defensive issues to clean up, too. The Lions have conceded first in every match they’ve played so far.
On the bright side, the injury woes that plagued Orlando City to start the season appear to be a thing of the past. Holding midfielder Uri Rosell participated in full training this week, and Kreis said he could be available for selection for the first time this season.
Striker Stéfano Pinho, who has been out with an ankle sprain since March 10, also trained this week. Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão, who attended Thursday’s training session, said he’s confident in the club.
Kreis agreed with his captain – Orlando City’s training sessions have been a bit more upbeat since picking up the first win of the season.
“We all feel like tremendous weight has been lifted off of us,” he said.