Following on the heels of the Timbers semi-historic victory over Real Salt Lake on Saturday, the Timbers have returned home to take on FC Dallas in a match up that could lift them back over the red line.
The Timbers have been a team on fire in the offensive end recently, averaging almost 2.5 goals scored per game over their last five matches as the team's attack has caught fire. The only team in MLS with a hotter attack is the Vancouver Whitecaps, who were helped past the Timbers by the penalty calls in the match between the two teams two weeks ago.
The goals are coming from all across the pitch, but the contributions of the new guy, Fanendo Adi, have been impossible to ignore. The reigning MLS Player of the Week, Adi has racked up four goals and two assists in just 221 minutes over five appearances. More importantly, he made Real Salt Lake defenders Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler look silly as he pushed them around in the RSL box on Saturday.
Adi is not the only hot hand (foot? is that a thing?) in the Timbers' camp currently. Competing with Adi for minutes currently is Maximiliano Urruti, who, despite being smaller in stature, has also been scoring at an impressive clip. Over his last three starts, Urruti has tallied four goals, including a goal of the week nominee just three minutes in against the Whitecaps.
Strangely, the odd man out in the attack currently seems to be Gaston Fernandez, who lead the Timbers in scoring for much of the season until Urruti's recent goal-splosion. Fernandez has continued to get minutes — he is not in the doghouse by any means — but his ambiguous "best position" leaves him in competition with just about every Timbers player in the attack. As we saw against Real Salt Lake, however, his ability to slot in anywhere on the pitch will continue to get him minutes, even with Urruti and Adi monopolizing the starts at the top of the formation.
Beyond the selection headaches from the team's attack, the exact configuration of the Timbers' lineup is difficult to pick out this week with the Timbers playing so soon again after their 3-1 win over RSL on the weekend. While the Timbers employed a squad-rotation policy during their recent stretch of three games in eight days, the Timbers will have six days before their next game, the team's US Open Cup match against the Orlando City FC U-23s on Tuesday. With MLS play largely suspended for a good part of the World Cup, the Timbers could look to get their core group of starters a match before the long layoff, or they could work in some of the players that will play an expanded role during the early stages of the cup.
For the second year in a row, FC Dallas started off the season rolling over teams, posting four wins in their first five games. Since then, however, Dallas has only managed to take home seven points from eleven games. Despite remaining in contention for a playoff spot, Dallas' points per game have been dropping like a rock.
Until Saturday, that is, as Dallas put up a 3-2 win against the Colorado Rapids. The Rapids were in a good run of form when they came to Toyota Stadium, but that did not stop Dallas' attack from switching on and putting up a multiple-goal game for the first time since their win over Toronto FC back in April.
Fabian Castillo has always been fast, but on Saturday he was actually a threat on goal as well, scoring on Colorado with a beautiful run down the pitch that was capped off with a well-taken shot that beat Clint Irwin comprehensively.
Castillo's goal was the game winner, but it was just part of an overall solid showing from the Dallas attack. The defending from Dallas was more consistent with their recent form. Including Saturday, Dallas has given up multiple goals in five of their last seven games.
The defensive lineup that Dallas will run out against the Timbers is a complete unknown, currently. With both starting centerbacks having to be removed due to injuries in the first half of Saturday's match, there is a big void to fill in front of keeper Raul Fernandez. Former Timber Steven Keel will step into one of the two vacant centerback spots, but who will fill the other is a mystery. Zimmerman sounds like a lock to be out, but Hedges could potentially make his return. Alternatively, right back Zach Lloyd could shift inside or homegrown player Moises Hernandez could step in.
Keys to the Match
- Remember what it is like to win at home. The Timbers have equaled last season's output of road wins, but have only managed one win at home. Still in need of points to get them into playoff contention, the Timbers had better start picking up points at Providence Park.
- Keep up the scoring. The Timbers have been banging in the goals at a fantastic pace and should continue to do so against a vulnerable Dallas defense.
- Lock down the flanks. Dallas are dangerous attacking from out wide, particularly when Castillo gets going like he did against Colorado over the weekend.
Watch it on: ESPN 2
Kick off: 7:00 PM PT at Providence Park
Portland Timbers: 4-4-9, 6th place in the Western Conference
FC Dallas: 6-7-3, 4th place in the Western Conference