The Portland Timbers are getting back on the horse Saturday at 12:30 (ish) when they take on FC Dallas down in Frisco. Coming off a bad loss in New Jersey, the Timbers used their off-week to circle the wagons heading into what may be the toughest test of their five-game season-opening road trip.
The Burn’s results in 2018 have been mixed thus far. After looking strong in preseason, FC Dallas crashed out of CONCACAF Champions League with an inexplicable Round of 16 loss to Panamanian side Tauro FC.
Oscar Pareja’s side followed up their CCL disappointment with a less-than-convincing 1-1 draw at home against Real Salt Lake. Although Dallas had most of the run of play, the RSL defense limited the Burn more and more as the game progressed. Before FCD found their late equalizer by way of a pretty fortunate RSL own goal, Pareja’s side looked largely out of ideas.
However, after their own week off and an opportunity to shed the CCL hangover, the Burn lit up the injury, CCL, and red-card weakened Seattle Sounders last week. Although they got their first goal and pretty well dominated before Clint Dempsey was given his marching orders, Dallas was in complete control thereafter, adding two more goals early in the second half and finishing off the game at a canter.
Expect to see a very similar team on Saturday to that which Oscar Pareja trotted out last week:
Pareja has been fairly consistent in using his 4-2-3-1 at Dallas over the years, even if with Mauro Diaz running the 10 it can credibly be called a 4-3-3 at times with the wingers playing a bit higher than the Argentine playmaker.
The Burn like to start their wingers fairly wide in the attack in order to open up central spaces for Diaz and their number-eight — normally Kellyn Acosta, but right now Jacori Hayes as Acosta is sidelined with a sports hernia. Diaz has shown signs of rounding back into his excellent pre-Achilles injury form, which makes him the most dangerous player on the field in most games FC Dallas plays. Michael Barrios — a player who presents plenty of danger himself — will come in from the right to combine, but he is most potent when he can find space to take on defenders one-v-one and use his impressive arsenal of pace and technicality to break down defenses.
Roland Lamah seems likely to be the starter on the opposite wing. Lamah is coming off a disappointing finish to his debut season in MLS. Lamah started the season slow, but caught fire by scoring eight goals during a seven-game stretch from late-May through early-July. From there, though, Lamah’s production dried up, scoring only three goals the rest of the way, two of which came in a Decision Day romp over the last-place LA Galaxy. Lamah’s start to 2018 has been promising, however, with a two-goal, one-assist outing against the Sounders. As a result, expect the Belgian winger to continue to start over new Colombian DP Santiago Mosquera, who has not yet found his form with his new club.
Dallas is certainly missing Kellyn Acosta, their starting box-to-box midfielder, who emerged not only as one of the best in MLS last season but is also making a serious claim to being the future of the U.S. Men’s National Team at the position. 2017 Super Draft pick Jacori Hayes, however, has been competent in Acosta’s absence, even if he isn’t nearly the two-way force that Acosta is. The backline, remains well-protected by Hayes and Ecuadorian international Carlos Gruezo.
Speaking of that backline, it has been substantially rebuilt since last year’s second-half disaster. Walker Zimmerman is gone to LAFC, Hernan Grana has returned to Argentina, Atiba Harris left for Murciélagos FC in Mexico’s Liga Ascenso, and Maynor Figueroa and Ryan Hollingshead are depth. In their place, Dallas retained Matt Hedges as the anchor of the defense, but brought in left back Anton Nedyalkov and center back Reto Ziegler while throwing 19-year-old homegrown Reggie Cannon into the deep end at right back.
Hedges, in particular, appears to be regaining form after a late-2017 swoon, which bodes well for the rest of the backline. Pareja has only been selectively aggressive in pushing Cannon and Ziegler, with the young right back being the more adventuresome of the two. Don’t mistake that for saying Ziegler can’t make an impact in the attack, though, as he brilliantly sprung the play that led to Dallas’s third against Seattle.
All told, in spite of their so-so start to 2018, Dallas is the most talented team the Timbers will face during their season-opening five-game road trip. If the Timbers want to keep old friend Maxi Urruti off the board, they’re going to have to be compact to keep Diaz from finding space centrally and Barrios from breaking down the defense by beating defenders one-v-one.
If the Timbers can do that — like RSL did in the season opener — this Dallas team has a habit of running out of ideas and easing off the gas. Being hard to break down, however, has hardly been the Timbers calling card thus far in 2018.