The Portland Timbers are headed to Texas to take on the league leaders, FC Dallas, and looking to bring home some points against a very tough opponent.
With only seven games left in the season, the Timbers find themselves in 6th place in the Western Conference, just above the red line. The side’s home form has been excellent, but outside of Providence Park the Timbers still struggle, having not yet managed a win away from home this season. That issue becomes all the more worrisome against Dallas, a side that is 9-0-4 at home and have only given up nine goals in those thirteen games at Toyota Stadium.
Still, now is as good a time as any for the Timbers to head to Frisco as both sides will have been shuffled up by this weekend’s international call ups. The Timbers will lose out on the services of Darlington Nagbe, Alvas Powell, and Jermaine Taylor for this match, which Dallas will be without Kellyn Acosta, Tesho Akindele, Carlos Gruezo, Maynor Figueroa, and Aubrey David; that leaves the Timbers short two starters and a regular backup, while Dallas are out three starters, Acosta, Gruezo, and Figueroa; a regular substitute, Akindele; and a regular backup, David.
Filling the holes left by Nagbe and Powell leaves the Timbers with some choices to make. On the back line, Powell seems likely to be replaced by Timbers’ utility man Zarek Valentin. However, that is not a lock as Valentin has only recently returned from a layoff due to injury and the possibility remains that third year defender Taylor Peay could slot in at right back instead.
While the right back question is a matter of fitness, replacing Nagbe is a matter of tactics, with a several players with widely varying styles available to fill in Nagbe’s usual, free-roaming slot out wide on the right. Ned Grabavoy seems like the most likely candidate for a like-for-like swap, bringing a very similar set of skills to the match as Nagbe, as well as a willingness to chip in on the defensive side of things: a trait that will be essential against this high-powered Dallas attack. Alternatively, the Timbers could take a look at players like Jack McInerney — pushing the Timbers back into the 4-4-2 formation that we saw from them last month — or Jack Barmby — bringing a much more attack-minded look to the Timbers’ set up.
On the other side of the ball, the Timbers should be looking intently at the gaps in Dallas’s lineup as well. Missing out on Acosta and Grueza means that Dallas are without both of their first-choice holding midfielders and instead will likely bring on Victor Ulloa and Juan Esteban Ortiz to hold down the center of the pitch. Both players are experienced veterans, but the pairing is a definite step down for Dallas and is one that the Timbers should be looking to exploit.
Watch it on: KPDX
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. PT at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX
Portland Timbers: 9-10-8, 6th place in the Western Conference
FC Dallas: 14-7-6, 1st place in Major League Soccer