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Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas Playoff Match Preview

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers host FC Dallas tomorrow in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Finals, taking on MLS's second place finishers for a spot in the Finals.

After a breakneck finish to the season and a start to the playoffs that has seen the Timbers win six of their last eight matches, the team are coming into this one with an extra week's rest and the expectation that they will come out on top of the home leg before venturing to Dallas's stronghold, Toyota Park, for leg two.

The Timbers will be without two of the key players in this late season surge, Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace, as the pair have both picked up suspensions for yellow card accumulation. Taking their places in the XI will likely be Will Johnson and Lucas Melano, two players with plenty of first team minutes under their belts this season.

Melano will almost certainly step in on the left wing, playing a more advanced role than Wallace and leaving some space behind him that the Timbers will have to guard zealously. Jorge Villafana provides as steady a presence as can be found in MLS at left back and should not have any issues dealing with the switch between Wallace and Melano, but Dallas's talented and dangerous midfield will still find ways to exploit any open spaces.

The insertion of Johnson into the lineup -- which is far from a sure thing -- brings even more wrinkles to the Timbers' approach to the game than Melano's. By default Timbers fans think of Johnson as a holding midfielder, the role he played alongside Diego Chara for much of his three years with the team, but the versatile midfielder could easily line up in a more advanced role if the Timbers look to keep Darlington Nagbe in the box to box shuttling role in which he has succeeded so admirably in recent matches. Alternatively, the Timbers could also put Johnson in a purely defensive role, pushing Nagbe up the pitch and giving Chara free reign to roam, win the ball, and start the break.

It is that second option the may just be most appealing to the Timbers in the presence of Argentine playmaker Mauro Diaz in the Dallas lineup. Diaz, the team's leading chance creator and second leading scorer, is at the heart of the Dallas attack and freeing up Chara to, ideally, take him out of the match could be crucial to containing the Dallas attack.

Of course, even if the Timbers do manage to neutralize Diaz they still have the presence of two potential game changes out not he flanks for Dallas. On the left is Fabian Castillo, the team's leading scorer and a speedster that few in MLS can match for pace. Castillo even earned a call up to the Colombian National Team recently based on the strength of his play in MLS. On the right is the diminutive but dangerous Michael Barrios. Barrios, the team's third leading scorer behind Castillo and Diaz, has a deep bag of tricks to call on and will keep any player marking him very busy.

Dallas is not the only quality attacking group in this match, however. The Timbers' probable attacking threesome of Lucas Melano, Dairon Asprilla, and Fanendo Adi, fed by the passing of Nagbe in the center of the pitch, could certainly be a handful. Adi, with seventeen goals to his name in the 2015 regular and post season, remains a dangerous finisher and potent hold-up man at the top of the Timbers' formation. His match up against the duo of Matt Hedges and Zac Lloyd will likely look like most others that we have seen from Adi in the second half of the season: he will get fouled often, few will be called, Adi will still win most of the balls that come his way; eventually he will get free for a shot or two.

Melano and Asprilla, meanwhile, bring very different aspects of play to the wings for the Timbers. Asprilla, on the right, is a straight-up winger with speed, a strong defensive work rate, and a willingness to whip balls into the box that have improved in quality as the year has gone on. Melano, on the left, will play as almost a second forward at times, looking to ride the Dallas back line and get in behind them when given a chance, particularly off of long balls forward from the back line or from flicked on passes off of Adi.

Their match ups will be somewhat more tricky than Adi's. Asprilla will be going against 2nd year pro Ryan Hollingshead. Despite having only recently been converted to left back, Hollingshead has been a solid contributor for Dallas's league leading defense this year, successfully shutting down most attacks that come his way. His workmanlike contributions to the Dallas back line seem like they will match up well against the similarly straightforward play of Asprilla, so expect a battle there. Melano, meanwhile, will find himself matched up against Jamaican international Je-Vaughn Watson. A talented right back with a willingness to get forward, the Timbers will want Melano to pin Watson back and eventually start exploiting the spaces left open by the Dallas fullback to get in on goal.

Match Information

Watch it on: FOX Sports 1

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR

Portland Timbers: Defeated Sporting Kansas City 2-2 (7-6), Defeated Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0

FC Dallas: Defeated Seattle Sounders 3-3 (4-2)