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Storylines: Portland Timbers vs FC Dallas

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The number one team in the Conference pays a visit

MLS: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

I think Gio sums up Saturday night quite well.

I mean that’s enough right? Don’t need to go into much more detail... The Portland Timbers had their collective asses handed to them, even though they did make a match of it in the second half by showing signs of life. They will definitely be looking to rebound after a disastrous night in Houston.

On the other hand, FC Dallas traveled to Vancouver and came away with a 2-1 victory that put them back on top of the Western Conference. Will they come to Portland and add to their lead over Sporting Kansas City, or can the Timbers right the ship and pick up three much-needed points at home?

Queen City of the Prairie

A bit of news surrounding FCD’s main man, Oscar Pareja: He seems to have been in talks about possibly becoming the USMNT team coach, although there are denials from his camp that he’s been contacted by USSF. Could this be a distraction heading into Saturday's match? Maybe — but I highly doubt it.

Pareja will be bringing his squad into Providence Park looking to pick up another three points — their magic number to get that first round bye. Right now they sit at 50 percent as the first seed in the West, and then it drops to around 32 percent of getting seeded second.

So basically, FC Dallas has their ticket into the playoffs, though they haven’t been able to clinch the West just yet — there are only two points separating them and Sporting KC. While the Timbers worry about making the playoffs (they still have a pretty good chance), FC Dallas basically knows they’re headed to the postseason; it just depends on where they will be seeded going into the postseason.

Tactical

FC Dallas (15-6-8, 53 pts)

While Pareja has dabbled in a few different formations this season, he goes with the tried and true 4-2-3-1 as his most-used formation. Last week they went with that formation, but instead of Maxi Urruti as the lead striker, they had him as the number 10, just underneath.

FCD’s Formation against Vancouver

That’s a hard-attacking front four, and it could be what the Timbers will have to deal with on Saturday. I could see Pareja putting Urruti back in the number nine, sliding either Barrios or Mosquera into that 10 spot, and then starting Roland Lamah. Either way, Dallas is dangerous.

Both Barrios and Mosquera had their way with Vancouver — not to mention Urruti pulling the strings, which he did quite well. Both goals by FCD were set pieces and not from the run of play: The first, a header from Mosquera, and then a header by Matt Hedges, both coming on corners.

Their fullbacks aren’t the bombing, forward-type fullbacks we’re used to seeing with most squads: While they do get up the pitch, they only dip their toe into the attacking third. Their right-back is 20-year-old Reggie Cannon, who will get farther forward than his partner Marquinhos Pedroso. And Pedroso hasn’t played a lot for FC Dallas, only making nine appearances with the first team.

They like to take shots from all over the place: They currently average 14.4 shots per match and don’t mind taking shots from distance — or wherever they think they can get a shot off. So there is the possibility of the Timbers keeper getting peppered if the defense isn’t on their game, like they were in Houston.

All in all, they’re are a very dangerous club, and there’s a reason they’re sitting at the top of the table. They very well could end top of the table and get that first round bye in the playoffs. But they’re going to have to fight off three other clubs that are in reach of the top of the table — which includes the Timbers.

It seems that Dallas, or at least Matt Hedges, isn’t worried about the Timbers.

“They obviously have great players. [Diego Valeri] is one of the best No. 10s in the league,” Hedges told FCDallas.com on Tuesday. “But I don’t think we’re worried as much about them as we were in the past. We’re going to try to play our game plan, and go in there and try to get three points. That’s what we need to do to try to win the West.”

Hopefully this is pinned up somewhere in the Timbers locker room.

Portland Timbers (13-9-8, 47 pts)

I was always told in playing sports that you needed a “short memory” — and I surely hope that Gio and the boys remember that.

One thing is for sure: We’ll see Larrys Mabiala back in the starting lineup at the sacrifice of Julio Cascante, who has had a real downturn in form. He had a terrible night in Houston — but, well, so did Liam Ridgewell. Ridgy’s listed as questionable for the match, so we might actually see Cascante after all. I wouldn’t mind seeing Tuiloma get a go, but he’s kind of fallen off the grid. I’d also fully expect both Diegos back in the starting XI. Additionally, the Timbers will be without the services of Sebastian Blanco, who will sit out due to yellow card accumulation.

I’m pretty confident that we’ll see the 4-3-2-1, as this is now the locked-in standard. With just four matches and 12 points total on the table, I would hope Gio’s not going to tinker too much (fingers crossed). One of the questions I have is: Who starts at the number six spot? Guzman? Or Olum, with Chara playing a bit more advanced? Neither have been totally on fire lately, though I guess if I had to pick one of the two, I’d go with Olum. He’s been better than Guzman, who’s had a terrible season and doesn’t seem to be getting out of that funk anytime soon.

Hopefully the fact that they don’t see the Timbers as much of a problem will be their possible undoing. One of the bright sides is that Jeff Attinella will be available for selection on Saturday night, according to The Oregonian’s Jamie Goldberg, so it’s possible we could see him between the pipes instead of Steve Clark. Though as I have mentioned before, hammys can be dodgy.

Whatever the case, the Timbers cannot come out and play like they did in the first half against Houston. They just can’t. While the real Timbers appeared somewhat briefly in that match, they need to come out strong to secure three points at home against the Western Conference leaders.

Log Slices

As of this writing, most prediction sites have the Timbers floating around a 90 percent chance of making the playoffs. They are currently fourth in the West all by themselves and — just as an aside — the Sounders lost to the Galaxy and are now sitting on the red line.

As I mentioned, with only four matches left, the Timbers need to make the most of them. I’d like to see a run of all four and go into the playoffs with a good head of steam. But, there’s the little matter of fending off a really good FC Dallas squad. The last time these two teams played, it was in Dallas back in March, it turned out to be a one all draw. Though I would have to say that both teams are slightly different now and that could play into the outcome of this match.

With a win, the Timbers will stay in fourth place, tied on points with LAFC — but with their superior goal differential, it keeps the Timbers in fourth. Most prediction outlets have the Timbers seeded fourth in the playoffs. If they want to get better than that, they need to get as many points as they can out of the last 12 available.