The Story So Far
Put it in the books: the 2018 MLS regular season is done and dusted.
Decision Day came and went, and the Timbers failed to acquire home-field advantage after losing 2-1 in Vancouver. Gio Savarese fielded a second-choice side in preparation for a midweek knockout-round match. The Portland Timbers will now travel to Frisco, Texas to take on fourth-place FC Dallas in the knockout stage of the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
FC Dallas also dropped their Decision Day match against the Colorado Rapids. Yes, you read that right: Dallas fell 2-1 to the Rapids. Even with the loss, though, they were able to secure home-field advantage for the knockout stage.
Feel The Burn
Dallas are in a mini freefall; they’ve lost three in a row, and goals have been hard to come by. Head coach Oscar Pareja pulled out all the stops in Colorado, fielding his first-choice XI, which could handcuff his team come Halloween night, since the Timbers rotated against Vancouver and will be better-rested.
This team, which is having trouble putting the ball into the back of the net, isn’t the one we saw twice in the regular season. They’ve cooled off considerably and look like a team that can be beaten — all the better for the Timbers.
It seems that the FC Dallas front office is banking on a win, offering fans conference semifinal tickets when they buy a ticket for the knockout match — one more reason for the Timbers to try and put the hurt on a tired Dallas side.
What To Watch For
FC Dallas (16-9-9, 57 pts)
The last time these two teams met, they drew 0-0.
They haven’t faced each other in the playoffs since 2015, when the Timbers won 5-3 on aggregate in the Western Conference Championship. Obviously these are two vastly different teams from three years ago. Either way, Pareja and his squad are going to have to find a way to grind it out for 90 minutes against a well-rested team.
Dallas will come out in a 4-2-3-1, much like the lineup they ran out in Colorado on Sunday, which you can see above. Dallas will try and move the ball out to the wings, as I think the Timbers will keep the midfield all tied up.
This is a dangerous front four, with Maxi Urruti, Michael Barrios, and Roland Lamah below Dom Badji. They also have Reggie Cannon, one of the best young right backs in the league, charging up the line to get into the attack. Expect big things from Cannon, a newly minted member of the United States men’s national team.
What happened to the Dallas from earlier in the season that looked like the team to beat? I think they got figured out, and as a result, the bottom fell out of the back half of the season. All they had to do was win in Colorado and they would have finished the season with 60 points, only two behind Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City in second place.
Colorado was just one of the three losses Dallas finished the season with, meaning it’s been a month since they last had a result — a win against Orlando City SC on October 6 — and I have to say, Orlando weren’t hard competition.
However, despite their recent form, don’t count on Dallas not to bring it — it’s the playoffs, after all, and sometimes all it takes is one goal to turn things around.
Portland Timbers (15-10-9, 54 pts)
I highly doubt we’ll see a lineup like the one you see above again, as this particular squad, a mostly second-choice XI, wasn’t up to the task of beating Vancouver to win home-field advantage for the knockout round.
I’m pretty sure we’ll see a familiar starting XI come tomorrow: Larrys Mabiala and Liam Ridgewell back together, plus the rest of our lovable rogues. The only question mark is the same one from last week: who starts in goal? Jeff Attinella started in Vancouver, but will he get the nod again, or will Steve Clark return? It’s a tough choice, but if it were me, I’d go with Attinella, the guy who’s been the number one all season. The question is, how healthy is that shoulder?
Either way, this team should be aggressive and run at the Dallas defense all night long. Their collective legs will only take so much. I think this will be a night to keep an eye on both Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco — given the space, they’ll run riot.
On the road this season, Attinella has a 72.6 percent shots-saved rate, the third-highest in MLS (of keepers with at least four road matches). That strong road form might be another reason to put him in goal tomorrow night.
Speaking of the defense, returning to the lineup is Liam Ridgewell, who didn’t even travel to Vancouver for the season finale. This could be his last night in the green and gold (although I hope not, because that would mean we’d been bounced from the playoffs!). A lot is up in the air for Ridgewell, who hasn’t always been on Savarese’s good side.
According to the current injury report, David Guzman is questionable with a thigh injury. He’s been hot and cold all year, though he seems to do fine in a 4-2-3-1. If he’s not ready to go, then I’d have to guess Lawrence Olum takes his place.
Finally, I would like to say congratulations to Diego Chara on the birth of his twin boys. Here’s the whole family: