Still without a win in their first four games of the season, the Portland Timbers face a daunting task Saturday evening as they take on a table-topping FC Dallas team. As usual we got in touch with Brian Wachholz of our sister site, Big D Soccer, to provide some insight into the Hoops.
SF: What is the status of Mauro Diaz and, if he's unable to play against the Timbers, how will FCD look to compensate for his absence?
BW: Word from the coaches is that Mauro has "lower body tightness." Since his injury last season, there have been a lot of steps taken to ensure his strong recovery. Oscar Pareja said to reporters this week that Diaz is on a different training schedule than the rest of the team. He played a few 90 minutes matches through preseason and March, and now they are going to ease off the gas a little and let him rest. It makes sense to me. Diaz is key to overdriving the offensive engine, so staff are taking a long term approach to his fitness and energy for 2015. Will Diaz feature in Portland? No, I don't think he traveled.
SF: Despite his set-piece magnificence, Michel has sometimes been a controversial character as a holding midfielder. Has he solidified his standing in the lineup with improved run-of-play performances?
BW: Yes and no. It's not clear cut yet this early in the season. Michel so far has few if any defensive errors on the official stat books. The complaint with him is that he generates more turnovers than a holding midfielder should. One of the keys to improving midfield has been the rise of Victor Ulloa. He pairs well with Michel and takes some of the defensive pressure off of the Brazilian.
SF: Undefeated in four with a league-leading 10 points, there's no question the Burn are off to a scintillating start, but we've seen this before. Is there a sense this is more sustainable than years past?
BW: Oscar Pareja will win MLS Cup with FC Dallas. It's just a matter of time. This year certainly feels more sustainable than last year. The team is less dependent on a single player for goal production. Last year was a trial by fire when Diaz went down with an injury, but Pareja was able to put the rest of the roster back into a successful formation.
Right now, FCD has 10 points from 4 games. No MLS team can maintain 2.5 points per game. Looking back at the past 5 years, only the Supporters Shield winning Galaxy and Eartquakes finished with 1.97 and 1.94 PPG respectively. The most recent couple of Shield winners had less than that. FC Dallas is scheduled for 5 consecutive road games in May/June. All that to say that the nature of a long MLS season will bring FCD back down to Earth a bit.
I believe FC Dallas will make the playoffs and challenge for the Cup, but they won't do it flying as high as they are now.