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Tactical Preview: Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas

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FC Dallas had a horrendous showing against Minnesota. They displayed weaknesses that the Timbers could exploit.

SOCCER: JUN 30 MLS - FC Dallas at Portland Timbers

The Portland Timbers’ opponent in the first round of the playoffs had a high stakes match on Decision Day. FC Dallas traveled to Allianz Field to take on Minnesota United for a chance to host a home playoff match.

FC Dallas entered the match having won their last three matches against Inter Miami, Houston Dynamo, and Nashville SC. Their opponents on Decision Day were shorthanded. Minnesota have been dealt blow after blow by injury — so much so that nine players were listed on the injury report before the match.

The injuries did not stop Minnesota United from completely dismantling FC Dallas. The Loons won 3-0 on the night. They booked themselves a home playoff match and condemned FC Dallas to Providence Park for their first-round match.

FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez rolled out a 4-2-3-1 against the Loons. The front four was composed of Harold Mosquera on the left, Jesus Ferreira behind the striker, Michael Barrios on the right, and Ricardo Pepi at striker. Offensively, Dallas almost entirely relied on the quick interchange of the front four in transition.

In build-up, FC Dallas usually looked to their fullbacks to link with the double-pivot of Thiago Santos and Andres Ricaurte. The fullbacks would either try and play a penetrative pass to the front four or pass to the double pivot, who would try the same. Generally, FC Dallas was composed and patient with the ball when their defenders, Santos, or Ricaurte had the ball. But their offense was built on having one of the front four drop quickly, receive the ball and run with numbers in transition. On the night, Ferreira was the player that usually dropped, but their was some interchangeability.

Once one of the front men got the ball they would do one of three things: run at the defense themselves, flick the ball over the top to the other attacking-runners, or play quick one-twos with another forward. FC Dallas’s offense was designed to create transition opportunities for their front four.

Generally, Dallas had a lot of space to get into a transitional midfield game. Minnesota pressed Dallas high up the pitch. Dallas struggled with the press at times, but when they broke through they had space to run. But when Dallas built slowly out of the back they were ineffective. Minnesota would drop into a deep block and Dallas looked relatively toothless when they weren’t operating in transition.

FC Dallas seemed to invite a game of transition opportunities. It was the only way they could create problems for Minnesota. Michael Barrios was Dallas’s dangerman on the night. His pace on the right wing created their only real open-play opportunity, which took a tremendous goal line clearance to keep out. But for as much as Dallas seemed to want a transition game, they were not set up well to defend against one. Ultimately all three of Minnesota United’s goals game from transition opportunities.

Minnesota’s first goal came in the 17th minute. Robin Lod jumped a bad backward pass. Minnesota launched forward and only the center backs were back in defense. Matheus Bressan didn’t step to pressure the ball carrier and instead backs off. Lod passed to Emanuel Reynoso, who was unmarked and ran down the middle of the field. He passed to Kevin Molino, who fired in the first goal.

The second goal came from a similar pattern of play. Minnesota won the ball high up the pitch around the 46 minute mark. Lod squared to Reynoso at the top of the box. The attacking midfielder had made the exact same run that led to the first goal. This time Reynoso fired it into the net.

The third and final goal was another transition opportunity where Reynoso found Molino. Minnesota could have scored more in transition as well. Dallas’s front four were so concerned with getting forward quickly that when they lost the ball there was acres of space behind them. The front four tried to counter-press and at times were successful, but if the press was broken it would only take one or two passes from Minnesota to be running at Dallas’s center backs.

Dallas really struggled to create against Minnesota and the Loons allowed Dallas a lot of space. The Timbers won’t allow that kind of space. They typically press situationally — which Dallas struggled to deal with — and sit in a mid-to-low block. If Dallas don’t remedy their predictable offensive patterns displayed against Minnesota they will struggle to break down Portland. They won’t have an abundance of space and transition opportunities. This may cause them to commit more players forward, which is where the fun for Portland would really begin.

On Decision Day, Reynoso was far and away the player of the match. He was all over the pitch and he was given too much space and time. Giovanni Savarese will hope the same will happen for Diego Valeri. If Valeri is given as much space and time as Reynoso this game may serve up a similar result for Dallas.

FC Dallas will need to adjust defensively if they are going to slow down the Timbers. The Timbers are well equipped to break their counter press with the likes of Diego Chara, Valeri, and Eryk Williamson and can really punish Dallas in transition.

The Portland Timbers should be excited about this matchup. FC Dallas showed against Minnesota that their defending in transition is suspect. They also showed that they struggle to create when they are denied transition opportunities. Portland is both good in transition, solid defensively, and playing at Providence Park. If the Timbers are up to the task, they could kick the playoffs off with a real statement of intent against FC Dallas