Throwback Thursday: Portland Timbers
You remember the last time Orlando City faced the Portland Timbers.
It was August 11, 2020. Disney World's Wide World of Sports complex. The MLS is Back Final.
That tournament was one of the most surreal sporting events in history, and the unique cultural and historical context make it an unforgettable and strange moment in American sports history. But outside of the circumstances, it was a tournament and the greatest one in Orlando City's MLS history.
The Lions started the season with two draws before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the season. It was the first season under Oscar Pareja and several key additions, including Antonio Carlos, Junior Urso and Pedro Gallese.
Orlando wasn't expected to do much at the tournament, but shattered everyone's expectations and captured the MLS consciousness. The Lions played fluid and exciting attacking soccer, led by Nani, who delivered an MVP-caliber performance in the bubble. It was also a breakout month for Chris Mueller and Joao Moutinho, who took early promise and finally turned it into genuine production.
Orlando City made a miraculous run all the way to the final, the club's first final of the MLS era. For the first time since the USL days, the Lions were playing for a real trophy. A spot in the CONCACAF Champions League was on the line, as well. This was the biggest match in club history.
The only things standing between Pareja's team and glory were the Portland Timbers.
Portland had a miraculous tournament run themselves, with Sebastian Blanco playing his best MLS football and a strong defense leading the way. The Timbers have been an excellent tournament team under head coach Giovanni Saverese, and this was another shining example of that.
It was an intense match that felt like a cup final, even in the constraints of the bubble. Portland got off the mark in the 27th minute off a set-piece goal from Larrys Mabiala. Orlando found an equalizer courtesy of Mauricio Pereyra and the teams entered the half knotted at one.
It was a hard fought match, but Portland found a breakthrough on another set piece, this time from Dario Zuparic in the 66th minute.
Orlando did everything it could to break through Portland's low-block defense, throwing on as many forwards as Pareja had available, but it wasn't enough. Orlando finished with just one shot on target, Pereyra's goal, and watched as their first chance at silverware slipped away.
Many things have changed for both teams since then, with new faces and new expectations, but that tournament was a turning point for both clubs. On Sunday, they'll meet again, in friendlier confines than the Disney bubble, showing all the growth that came from that tournament final in the heat of a pandemic almost two years ago.