The Portland Timbers travel to FC Dallas stadium tonight to take on their Western Conference rivals, who also happen to be sitting at the top of the tables. After a middling season ion 2012, one has to wonder just how this current Dallas team has managed to turn itself around. To help us out with that I spoke with Brian Wacholz of SB Nation's FC Dallas blog Big D Soccer.
The Portland Timbers have an interesting relationship with FC Dallas Stadium. And by interesting I mean terrible. Is Dallas considered more of a home team or is there some sort of reason that you can think of as to why the Timbers have fared so poorly there in the past?
There are a number of teams who struggle in Dallas or even in Texas overall. Real Salt Lake, for example, has never won at Dallas or Houston. Maybe it is the heat? Maybe it is the long distance from many other MLS cities? I think it is a number of factors that combine to make FCD a very difficult away match, and it sticks in traveling players' heads. In the summertime, the overnight low averages in the mid-80's. How often does Portland's daytime high reach far above that?
FCD as a squad can be very disciplined in the defensive third. So even when they are struggling to score goals, they have often denied the visitors that go-ahead goal to win the game. This definitely plays an important role in the challenge.
For their part, FC Dallas seems to be on a tear this season, currently at the top of the standings. What's going on? Is this just a case of Dallas' squad finally being fully healthy or is there something underpinning this success?
Locker room chemistry is at the heart of Dallas' 2013 success. We've had the talent, but it wasn't clicking last year during our outrageous injury spell. The core of the team has been around for a few seasons now, and they remember what it was like to reach the 2010 MLS Cup Final and lose. The front office and coaching staff had a very insightful offseason, adding key players to fill gaps in the roster and shedding some dead weight. I think the moves motivated a few of the players to step up their game, and the deeper bench has added competition for starting eleven positions.
So far this campaign, we've seen the digital team have the players goofing around for web content fairly regularly, and the front office has introduced mandatory Spanish language classes to help foster community between the Spanish and English speaking contingents. This seems to have been a really beneficial move since we found hilarious twitter pictures and banter between the players, clearly having fun with the assignment. You can see the solidarity reflected in their demeanor on the field. You don't often see the guys frustrated and yelling at each other. They look to be having fun and are working hard together.
Kenny Cooper, your home town guy and former Portland Timbers forward, has returned. How has he done so far? Is he expected to start on Wednesday?
He is expected to start on Wednesday. Kenny Cooper has had a big impact on this team although he only has one goal so far. His off the ball movement opens up space for his teammates, and he seems to always be looking for someone to pass the ball on to. His hold up play brings a unique twist to what FCD has been traditionally doing the past couple seasons. I expect later this season we will still see Cooper go on a brutal goal-scoring run; however, with the team sitting on a 6-1-2 record right now, it's hard to justify any comments that he should do anything differently in the immediate future.
Who's one FC Dallas player that is expected to make an impact Wednesday night, but perhaps isn't as well known? Why should Timbers fans look out for him?
Michel Garbini Pereira ... or just Michel. The Brazilian joined FCD during the offseason from Greek side Aris. Although traditionally a left back, FC Dallas has found success utilizing him in central midfield alongside Andrew Jacobson. He appears to have assimilated to MLS very quickly and has already made 8 starts. He has been vital in controlling the midfield alongside AJ, quickly switching gears between offense and defense. Also, watch out for Michel on set pieces - he has been a significant upgrade and will punish lazy defending.
Predicted starting lineup?
This is one of the hardest matches to predict so far this season because we have a number of guys coming and going from (relatively minor) injury. So it is hard to guess who will be feeling well enough on Wednesday, but I will take a stab at it:
Raul Fernanadez in goal.
Defense should consist of Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges, London Woodberry, and Jair Benitez. (George John may be held out as a precaution.)
Andrew Jacobson and Michel. (Ramon Nunez may see his return to the FCD pitch or JeVaughn Watson could play if AJ isn't able to dress.)
Jackson Goncalves, David Ferreira, and Kenny Cooper.
UPDATE: Jackson will be serving a suspension against Portland tonight.
Once again, big thanks to Brian for taking his time to answer my questions. Read more about FC Dallas at Big D Soccer.
What do you think of this current FC Dallas side?