The Portland Timbers have headed down to Texas for Saturday's match against league leading FC Dallas. Surprising nobody, this is going to be a hot one, but despite the conditions the Timbers are just a win and some fortunate results away from taking first place in the Western Conference.
As we look forward to the Timbers hopefully regaining some of the road form that benefited the team in 2014, we get an inside look at FCD from Big D Soccer's Brian Wachholz.
Fabian Castillo is Dallas's lone member of the 2015 All-Star lineup. How important has he been to Dallas's success this year and what do the Timbers need to do if they want to contain him?
Fabian is absolutely critical to what FC Dallas has been building, not only this season but for the future as well. Dallas isn't buying a Drogba or Gerrard or Keane. Dallas acquired a young DP with huge potential and is building a system around him. As Fabian has matured at FC Dallas, we have seen him become more consistent and his skills improve. Oscar Pareja is at the heart of this development.
Portland was actually the first team to figure him out this season; the Timbers handed FCD their first loss back in April. Fabian was very frustrated that game (a few people were frustrated by the end of it). Portland succeeded in containing the young Colombian. I recall a mix of young, fast players and experienced veterans standing in Castillo's way. Caleb Porter deployed Darlington Nagbe and Alvas Powell on the right wing, both guys very capable of staying with Fabi. When the spine guys like Diego Chara and Nat Borchers closed in on defense, as Castillo dribbled toward goal, they were able to anticipate his movement and halt his progress. Borchers is physically dominating, and he knows where to position himself before someone like Fabian gets there first.
Portland will have to replicate that in Frisco where FC Dallas is 7-1-2 in 2015.
Buoyed by their current four game winning streak, Dallas is currently on top of the Supporters' Shield standings; does this team have what it takes to stay there in a crowded Western Conference?
Yes if ... the dreaded qualifier ... if everyone stays healthy and in form. Dallas has a fantastic first 11-15 players. However, as we saw in Kansas City in the LHUSOC, the bench is less experienced. As you look down the FCD roster, it's not the talent that drops off but the experience. Dallas has been very methodically building a young roster from the Academy and unearthing other hidden talents. So every guy down the depth chart is a project. They are gaining experience and learning every day but not all are starting MLS quality yet.
All that to say that Dallas can continue on their streak of good results if Oscar can maintain healthy squad rotation and all of his starters. If FCD loses someone like Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castillo, Matt Hedges, or Zach Loyd for more than a game or two, the team will struggle to keep up with the MLS heavyweights.
Talking about Dallas's current run, FCD seemed to hit a bit of a mid season lull before roaring back to life in the July heat; what spurred the current run of form? Is it the heat, the home cooking, or some personnel and tactical changes?
Home field advantage means a lot to this team. Maybe you could find some correlation with the age of the players, maybe not. But the 5 game consecutive road trip was hard for FCD. The team suffered a string of bad results. With one exception, those individual games weren't completely insurmountable, but the road trip was. Dallas is 7-1-2 at home in 2015 and 3-4-3 away.
Dallas has been lucky with the Gold Cup and some key calls: Orlando was without Kaka (red card) and Cyle Larin (Gold Cup) for the match against Dallas. DC United was without Bill Hamid (injury) and Fabian Espindola (red card) for their visit to Frisco. With those lucky miracles and Dallas' amazing ability to stay healthy this year, compared to past seasons, the future is looking bright.
I expect the lineup to be the same as the last match. Tesho Akindele will probably be the first substitute in the second half for Barrios or Tex.
Kennedy; Hollingshead, Hedges, Loyd, Harris; Ulloa, Acosta; Castillo, Diaz, Barrios; Texeira