The Portland Timbers finished practice today at the team’s training center in Beaverton with a fresh outlook ahead of their upcoming match Sunday against Orlando City SC (1pm PT, TICKETS, ESPN). While Portland lost 4-1 on the road this past weekend to FC Dallas, a number of players that had been recovering from injuries saw playing time.
Midfielder Sebastián Blanco came on at the half to play his longest stretch of the year to date (45 minutes) and set up forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda with a perfect pass for the team’s lone goal. Meanwhile, centerback Dario Zuparic came in for the final 20 minutes of the match and defender Larrys Mabiala, though he didn't play, was available off the bench.
Midfielder Eryk Williamson, who did not play in Dallas, is another player nearing return that Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese is close to having back back.
“[Eryk’s] doing really well,” said Savarese when asked about Williamson’s progress. “I think he is in a question mark stage [for this weekend]. Do we put him on the bench to be in this game? Or do we wait a little bit more and give him another game?
“But the discussion around this week is about Eryk. There’s a potential that he could make the bench.”
For Zuparic, despite the result against Dallas, he was happy to have made his first appearance of the year saying that now, “I'm ready to play. I just need to build my confidence. And I need more minutes to be much better.”
Zuparic played a key role the last time Portland faced Orlando City, nearly two years ago. In the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament final, the Croatian defender knocked in the game-winning goal in the 66th minute to give Portland its second major trophy.
Zuparic remembers the moment well.
“Because this is the only [goal] that I scored here,” he said with a smile. “It was a final. We won MLS is Back Tournament and I was happy for that.”
Many things have changed with both teams’ rosters since that sweltering night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and this weekend’s spring showdown at Providence Park. Most recently, along with the many Portland players returning from injury or nearing return, defender Bill Tuiloma is now away on international duty with New Zealand at World Cup qualifiers.
Though Savarese and his staff know they may have some more options to work with for player selections, they are also busy getting the group ready on what to expect from Orlando.
“We are still looking and analyzing [them],” he said. “They have a good deep bench in order to provide a good team that's going to be very competitive. We know them but we'll watch more video now to make sure that we give the proper information to the players.”