The Portland Timbers are at home for the second week in a row for tomorrow’s clash against Western Conference powerhouse FC Dallas, but both sides have been hit by international call ups, making Saturday’s match up will be a test of depth as the Timbers look to move up the ladder.
The Timbers will be without two key pieces of their midfield this weekend, Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman, as well as full back Alvas Powell on the back line. Powell’s absence will be felt, but he has been coming off the bench for the Timbers in the last two matches, replaced in the XI by a more technical player in Zarek Valentin. Nagbe and Guzman, however, are absences that will force the Timbers into a significant shift in the way that they approach the game, particularly in the attack.
Losing Nagbe, who was already gone for last Friday’s 2-0 win against the San Jose Earthquakes, is compounded by a rash of injuries among the Timbers’ attacking players. Darren Mattocks and Jack Barmby were the main competition for Dairon Asprilla to fill Nagbe’s spot in the attacking midfield, but both have been out with injuries during Nagbe’s absence and once again neither will be available for the match against Dallas. This leaves Asprilla as the heir apparent to Nagbe’s currently vacant spot as occasional agitation for young speedster Victor Arboleda has not swayed Caleb Porter’s decision-making.
With a true winger in Asprilla filling in the Timbers’ front four, taking over the right flank and shifting Sebastian Blanco over to the left, the side have more natural width without having to rely on their full backs to get forward quite so dramatically. This is particularly true for Valentin, who is allowed to pick his spots to get into the attack, rather than constantly occupying the space out wide that is vacated when Blanco drifts inside from the wing.
The move will also represent a change in the responsibilities of Blanco, asking him to provide the link between the defense and the attack in a similar way to Nagbe; playing the role of the shuttler down the left flank. Although his tally of goals (1) and assists (2) are still well below what Timbers fans would like to see from the new designated player, it is situations like this in which Blanco has seemed most comfortable for the side as he cuts inside and links up with Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri in the center of the pitch.
In this role, Blanco will be supported by Diego Chara. Although Chara played in a more reserved role against San Jose, letting Guzman get forward and join in the attack, he will certainly be moved into a No. 8 role against Dallas, pushing further up the pitch and joining Blanco in facilitating the break.
Behind Chara will be Lawrence Olum, playing as a pure defensive midfielder. While not the distributor that Guzman, or even Chara, is, Olum is a strong defensive presence and capable in possession. He will not be pulling the strings for the No. 6, but Olum should take pressure off of Liam Ridgewell and Roy Miller in the center of the defense.
That defensive presence is something that the Timbers will likely need as they face off against an FC Dallas attack that is coming off a 6-2 pasting of Real Salt Lake largely intact. Although midfielder Kellyn Acosta is with the USMNT, Dallas’s attacking trio of Maximiliano Urruti, Michael Barrios, and Roland Lamah are all on hand and in fine form. Moreover, the side also have their game-changing No. 10, Mauro Diaz, back from injury and available off the bench if a late-game push is needed.
Containing this group is not an easy task, particularly if they can get the go-ahead goal. Although Dallas is a decidedly multifaceted group, they are most dangerous on the break, able to carve teams open with their quick runs and accurate passes out of the back. This often leads to Dallas welcoming teams on and either looking to break out or looking for the moment to press high up the pitch through Urruti and Lamah, a tactic that looks much like the Timbers at their most deadly.
Watch it on: KPDX
When: Saturday, June 10th at 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 6-5-3, 4th place in the Western Conference, 2-0 win over San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas: 6-2-5, 3rd place in the Western Conference, 6-2 win over Real Salt Lake