The Portland Timbers take on FC Dallas tomorrow, still looking for their first win of 2014. The Timbers are on only two points through the first three games of the season, while Dallas currently top the table with seven points from the first three matches. The Timbers may have dominated FCD last season, but this match up will be a tough one as the Timbers look to get out of their early-season rut and Dallas try to show that they will not collapse after another solid start like we saw in 2013.
The loss of Donovan Ricketts from the Timbers' line up thanks to the double-whammy of his injury and suspension suffered against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday leaves a huge hole at the back for the Timbers. The loss of the 2013 keeper of the year open's the door for Andrew Weber to step in at the back. A consistent presence on the bench wherever he has gone, Weber has made a career of stepping in to bad situations and providing a solid, if not game changing, option in goal.
In front of Weber will likely be the reunited pairing of Pa Modou Kah and Norberto Paparatto in the center of the defense. Paparatto, after being at the center of the Timbers' first two goals conceded, has returned to the side after recovering from a groin strain that kept him out of the team's match against the Colorado Rapids last weekend. Newly acquired at the start of the season, Paparatto led the league in interceptions through the first two weeks of the season and will look to continue integrating with the rest of the Timbers' defense this week. If Paparatto is not ready to play, Futty Danso can step in for a second game in a row.
Up top the Timbers will likely keep on Steve Zakuani as a starter, giving the team a wide presence that could open up space for Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe who will interchange between the center and right side of the midfield. At the No. 9 spot at the top of the Timbers' formation we will likely see the return of Maximiliano Urruti. Despite Gaston Fernandez's two goals so far this season, the Timbers lack the ability to effectively harry their opponents from the start of the match when they do not have Urruti on the pitch, something that will be even more important with three of Dallas's top holding midfielders out injured or suspended.
Like last season, FC Dallas are off to a flying start. This year, however, they do so under the guidance of new coach Oscar Pareja, poached from the Rapids days before the Superdraft. Since arriving in Dallas, Pareja has made cuts and brought in new faces, remaking the eam in his own image. Luckily for him, FCD already had a good core of young players on which to build.
David Ferreira, the face of the franchiseduring Schellas Hyndeman's tenure as coach, is gone and in his place Dallas have given a new player the No. 10 spot: Mauro Diaz. Diaz, like the Timbers' Diego Valeri, is an Argentine with an uncanny ability to hold up the ball and play a spot-on through ball to his teammates or drive forward and score a goal himself. Timbers fans have seen Diaz before; he scored Dallas's lone goal in last August's 2-1 Timbers' win over FCD one month after coming to MLS.
Another attacking weapon that Timbers fans will be familiar with is Fabian Castillo. Signed by Dallas out of Columbia when he was eighteen, Castillo is now twenty-one and, in the first three games of the season, looks to have turned a corner in his development as a player. Last year Castillo would burn by players (including Ryan Miller and Jack Jewsbury) with his speed, only to lose the ball thanks to an errant touch or a poor decision. This year, Castillo has found his scoring touch, picking up two goals already.
At the center of the pitch, however, Dallas have some questions to be answered. Both former Timber Adam Moffat and Andrew Jacobson are out due to injury, while Hendry Thomas is out thanks to a red card picked up in Dallas's match last weekend against Chivas USA. The three players represent the top three choices for the two holding midfield spots that Pareja prefers from his teams. With all three out we will likely see the 2014 debut of 35-year-old Peter Luccin and 22-year-old Victor Ulloa as Dallas's starting midfielders. Luccin and Ulloa are both competent, but their relative lack of chemistry and speed could give the Timbers attack more room to roam than they have seen so far this season, something which could be a difference maker as the Timbers try to spark their goalscoring.
Timbers Keys to the Match
- Contain Dallas's speed. With Castillo on the left and Je-Vaughn Watson on the right, Dallas have two very capable speedsters, who the Timbers will need to give some healthy respect to.
- Break down the center. The Timbers face their fourth concecutive team that will back players into the center of the pitch. Against Dallas, however, the Timbers have the players to create space and play the ball on the ground, rather than sending in crosses from the wings for Matt Hedges and Stephen Keel to clear.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kick off: 5:30 pm at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas
Portland Timbers: 0-1-2
FC Dallas: 2-0-1