It has been a week and a half since the Portland Timbers lost a hard fought battle to Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup semifinal. Now the Timbers will start the final third of the season with a home match against FC Dallas. Both teams have dropped down the table after their early season runs of form sputtered in the last month and a win for Dallas or the Timbers could a potential Supporters Shield run back on track.
Watch it on: KPDX
Kick off: 8:00 p.m. at Jeld-Wen Field
Portland Timbers: 8-3-11 (4th place in the Western Conference)
FC Dallas: 8-6-9 (7th place in the Western Conference)
After the bye week the Timbers find themselves one spot back from where they were when they last played in MLS, having been passed up by the Vancouver Whitecaps on their weekend off. However, there has been and intense aura surrounding the Timbers this week as the team prepares to make the most of the games they have in hand over almost every Western Conference team.
Unfortunately, even coming off a weekend's rest, the Timbers have plenty of players who have been termed "day to day" by Caleb Porter. Will Johnson, Jack Jewsbury, and Frederic Piquionne have all seen significant minutes this year and all have been out of practice since at least the game against RSL last Wednesday. Jewsbury and Piquionne have actually been out since the Timbers' last league game when they took on the Vancouver Whitecaps, although Jewsbury was on the bench against RSL and looks like a good bet to be there again tomorrow.
The probable absence of Will Johnson in the midfield will likely bring Ben Zemanski out onto the pitch to take on the feisty David Ferreira. There have been rumors that Dallas will be switching to a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield, so expect Zemanski to man mark the Dallas attacking midfielder in an effort to keep him from finding Blas Perez or the speedy Fabian Castillo.
With Zemanski taking a more defensive role, the Timbers will need Diego Chara to cover a significant amount of ground, thankfully not a problem for him, and initiate the attack. In practice this week the Timbers emphasized getting back to the things that they do well: possessing the ball and pressuring their opponents. Chara's abilities in the center of the pitch will be vital to this back to basics approach as the Timbers will need his 3.8 tackles per game and 88% pass completion rate to make that happen.
The Timbers will also likely look to bring their fullbacks into the attack against FC Dallas and keep the Hoops penned in from the start. To that end it looks likely that Alvas Powell, a much faster and offensively minded right back than Ryan Miller, will get the start. Although Powell has not looked like he is ready to go a full 90 minutes in practices yet, the additional threat he gives the Timbers down the right flank is unmistakable, especially as it allows Darlington Nagbe to cut inside while still leaving a credible threat on the right wing.
Here is my best guess at the lineup that the Timbers will use tomorrow:
Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Alvas Powell; Ben Zemanski, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe
Dallas come into this game on their worst run of form of the season, having gone without a win in their nine league games or eleven games in all competitions. The team that started off that streak? The Timbers with a 1-0 victory here in Portland on June 15th.
This Dallas team will, however, look substantially different from the one that we saw back in June (or even in July's US Open Cup quarterfinal). In recent weeks FC Dallas has been hit hard by injuries. Zach Loyd and Andrew Jacobson, steady first team pieces for Dallas this year, will both likely miss tomorrow's match after picking up injuries last week. Newcomer Erick, while not injured, is still getting up to full fitness and, although he will probably play against the Timbers, will not be someone that Dallas will want going a full 90, especially with three matches to play in the next week.
In their most recent match, a 3-3 shootout with the LA Galaxy last Sunday, Dallas gave up an early lead only to find a goal from Panamanian striker Blas Perez in the 86th minute off of a free kick. Galaxy fans will tell you that Dallas were offside on the kick, and they are correct, but Dallas remains a very dangerous team on free kicks with Michel and Ferreira providing service and the towering presences of George John and Matt Hedges in the mix to knock the ball down.
Dallas are also very adept at earning fouls with Ferreira earning 2.9 fouls per match and eight others averaging at least one foul per match. In contrast, Darlington Nagbe earns 2.3 fouls per match and five other Timbers average over a foul per game. The Timbers have struggled on their defending in the box in recent weeks, it has been a large part of their recent struggles, so against a team that hits the ground as often as Dallas the Timbers will need to particularly mindful of the placement of their tackles.
One potential Dallas lineup:
Raul Fernandez; Michel, George John, Matt Hedges, Kellyn Acosta; Ramon Nunez, Erick, David Ferreira, Jackson; Blas Perez, Fabian Castillo
The Timbers, despite their struggles, still have yet to lose at home since their defeat to Montreal at the beginning of the season. In fact, the Timbers have only tied at home twice this year. Both teams are having injury issues, but the home field advantage looks like a good bet to be the deciding factor here. A win and a couple of favorable results could put the Timbers as high as second place in the west after tomorrow's game, a spot they will be eager to take hold of after the increased scrutiny of the last month.