The Portland Timbers are on the road this weekend, heading to the Lone Star State to take on FC Dallas in a match up between the top two teams in the Western Conference. To get the low-down on the Timbers’ opposition, we talked to Drew Epperley of Big D Soccer.
FC Dallas are coming off a Supporters' Shield winning season and have started off 2017 with a six game unbeaten run that includes nothing but wins at home, but this is MLS and even the best team has an Achilles heel; what do you think is Dallas's weakness so far this season and how could the Timbers exploit it?
There are a couple things that still stick out to me two months into the season. First, set pieces are still an issue. While the team hasn't given up many so far in the regular season to start out, we saw in the Champions League where they can be exposed on set pieces, especially corner kicks. Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman have done a good enough job so far though in the regular season to keep the team from leaking goals in that manner.
The next thing in my mind has to be the attack. While they are winning games and scoring goals, this group hasn't really been able to find their finishing touch enough to make the locals happy so far. Newly acquired Designated Player Cristian Colman has struggled big time to find the back of the net in league play, as has veteran winger Roland Lamah. If Portland is able to shut down the likes of their old pal Maxi Urruti and others like Kellyn Acosta or Michael Barrios, Dallas will need to lean on Colman or Lamah to get things going in the attack. And right now, that thought scares a lot of Dallas fans.
Despite their strong start to the season, Dallas have yet to really pour on the goals, averaging just 1.33 goals per game so far; is the lack of scoring a concern in the early going for Dallas? Does the side need to address this or do they have the personnel to get through the year?
Is it a concern? Yes and no. I know some Dallas fans are concerned about the things I mentioned above but for me there are acclimation issues for Colman and Lamah that have to be sorted out. They're both still really new to this league and how to play in it. Really good players learn this league quick but a lot of the time it does take a little while before foreign players to get acclimated. I think once they both get comfortable here, things will start opening up for them both. Same will go with other guys too like Urruti and Barrios.
I think the personnel side is actually fine. For the most part it comes down to formation shifts and lineup changes from Oscar Pareja from game to game. He's used a different lineup in nearly every game so far this season, so consistency is possibly a struggle for some of these attackers. Colman in particular has not had his way so far but his movement off the ball is still really good, which has allowed Urruti to be more dangerous when the two are on the field together. Lamah looked more dangerous last week on the right side of the field, as opposed to the left side where he began starting out this season.
Kellyn Acosta has been drawing rave reviews so far this season from around the league; how has his play improved since last year and how important is he to the way that Dallas approach the game?
The evolution of Acosta's game has been fun to watch over the last couple of years and even more so this season. A lot of us around Dallas felt going into this season that he could start to really be something special and he is certainly doing so already with the goals that he is producing. But I love pointing out the other little things that he is doing well that don't show up in the stat sheet. Last week against Sporting KC, he was tasked with locking down Roger Espinoza in the midfield. Looking back on that game, Espinoza was extremely quiet on the night because of how Acosta was able to mark him in the midfield and keep the ball away from him.
I don't think Acosta is at the 'key player' status just yet for this team as I'm not banking on him to produce ten goals or ten assists here. But the more he continues to chip in, the more dangerous the entire team will get. If you want someone who is an absolute key in the midfield right now for Dallas, you need to focus in on his midfield partner in Carlos Gruezo. That guy is an absolute monster.
Predicted lineup: Jesse Gonzalez, Hernan Grana, Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Maynor Figueroa, Carlos Gruezo, Kellyn Acosta, Tesho Akindele, Javier Morales, Roland Lamah, Maxi Urruti