The Portland Timbers are sitting on top of the Western Conference, but if they want to prove themselves to truly be the top dogs in the West — and hence in all of Major League Soccer — they will need to get a result this weekend against the only remaining undefeated team in the league: FC Dallas.
Heading to Frisco, the Timbers face an impressive opponent in FCD; 4-0-2 through their first six matches and having only allowed three goals in that span, Dallas will be a tough nut to crack. Making that task even more imposing is the confirmed absence of the Maestro, Diego Valeri, out after suffering a hip flexor injury in last weekend’s 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
In Valeri’s absence the Timbers will look to Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco to carry the team’s chance creation duties, likely shifting Blanco inside and into a more central role than the free-floating winger duties that he is used to. While Nagbe is also a possibility for a move into the center of the pitch, his current form cutting in from the wing makes it hard to imagine moving him and potentially disrupting a good thing.
The team’s attack should be somewhat compensated for the loss of Valeri by the return of Fanendo Adi from suspension. Adi is currently on five goals from seven games and will be looking to regain any momentum lost from a contentious, shutout loss to Sporting Kansas City followed by an enforced rest against Vancouver. Adi will be matched up against one of the league’s premier center back pairings in Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman, a back line that the Timbers have struggled against in their most recent meetings.
To successfully break down the Dallas defense the Timbers will need to open holes in the Dallas formation, something that will be made harder by the side’s willingness to sit back, cede possession, and attack on the break. Moving the ball through the midfield, taking advantage of the free-floating nature of Nagbe and Blanco, and switching the point of attack will be important for the Timbers, but, like Dallas, their best chances will likely come on the break where they will most miss the presence of Valeri.
To that end, the Timbers will need to show the sort of ruthlessness that has been on display in their best team goals of the season — Darren Mattocks’s game winner against Vancouver or Diego Chara’s tap-in at the LA Galaxy. Unfortunately for the side, Valeri tends to be at the heart of any such move, where Nagbe tends toward slowing down the play and Blanco is simply still unproven at leading the break in his time with the Timbers.
On the defensive end, the Timbers will be contending with a strong, but not overwhelming attack from Dallas. FCD have yet to be shut out on the season, but they have also only scored eight goals in six games. This is not entirely surprising given their commitment to defense, but it is still below the 1.47 goals per game pace set by the side in their Supporters’ Shield winning campaign last season.
What makes the Dallas attack difficult to contend with is their ability to find goals from all across the pitch. At forward both Maximiliano Urruti and Tesho Akindele or Cristian Colman are all capable goalscorers, although not likely to contend for the Golden Boot, while their midfield is stocked with players capable of scoring regularly like winger Michael Barrios or Real Salt Lake legend Javier Morales (soon to be replaced by the impeding return of Mauro Diaz), and even their defense is more than capable of nicking one with Zimmerman scoring four in 2016.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Where: Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX
When: Saturday, April 29th at 5:00 p.m. PT
Portland Timbers: 5-2-1, 1st place in the Western Conference, Beat Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 at home
FC Dallas: 4-0-2, 2nd place in the Western Confernece, Beat Sporting Kansas City 1-0 at home