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Preview: Timbers back in MLS play against FC Dallas

The Timbers are jumping back into MLS play with a rematch against FC Dallas, the team who dispatched them from the playoffs last year.

Houston Dynamo FC v Portland Timbers Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The Portland Timbers will play their third game of the still-young MLS season today, and it’s a big one. They’ll get a rematch against FC Dallas, the team that beat Portland last year in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs after scoring a late goal to send it into penalties, with Dallas coming out on top. It was certainly not the ending the Timbers or Timbers fans had envisioned for last season.

But Friday’s press conference wasn’t too focused on that or what Dallas did to them as much as it was focused internally on where the Timbers currently stand. At the moment, fewer and fewer Timbers are still standing. Portland has been riddled with injuries this year, and unfortunately suffered another casualty with Cristhian Paredes going down with a quad injury against Club America. According to Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese, the injury will leave Paredes out for six to eight weeks.

“The good thing is that there was nothing more than that,” Savarese said. “Still a few weeks, but it could have been worse.”

Losing Paredes hurts Portland for numerous reasons. For starters, Paredes was playing well. He seemed to be finding the form he was playing at in 2019 but lost in 2020. Before his injury, he was looking much more comfortable in the midfield, and it stings to lose him for any amount of time. Secondly, it stings because Paredes’s name is now just one of many important Timbers players sidelined due to injury.

“He adds up a little bit the list that we have of injuries,” Savarese said. “Hopefully more guys will continue to be a part of [the team] and we’ll have some guys coming back.”

Two players in particular are guys that Timbers fans have been dying to see this season. Jeremy Ebobisse has been nursing a hamstring issue since the preseason, but is close to returning, according to Savarese. Sebastian Blanco is also supposedly close to returning. After noting earlier this week that Seba was not quite as close as they’d expected, now Savarese says he’s closer than ever to returning to the pitch.

The Timbers will be patiently awaiting the return of those two players, but they’re also excited about what they have right now. Andy Polo is back and ready to play in matches after dealing with a green card issue. That adds more depth to the wings, who have impressed so far this season.

Yimmi Chara has looked better in his second season with the club. Obviously, he had the hat trick earlier this year against CD Marathon in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16, but he’s also had good interplay with the other members of the Timbers squad. We saw this play from Chara in spurts last season, but even Savarese noted that it has been more consistent in 2021.

“The difference is not that there is a different Yimmi in regards to the way he knows how to play,” Savarese said. “It’s just his fitness level and his confidence level has elevated and that allows him to be able to show his qualities better.”

One person who has seemingly never lacked confidence? Dairon Asprilla. He’s playing very well to start the year also, even though the regular season doesn’t have a prefix or anything of that nature. After missing most of last season with a knee injury, he’s been bold this year on the pitch, and for the most part it has helped him stay a consistent member of the first team and has been a boon to the Timbers.

“I think Asprilla has reached a level that has allowed him to step on the field and perform in the way that we have seen him perform in practices,” Savarese said. “I think he’s getting his emotions straight, and he’s been very good from the beginning of preseason this year.”

Portland will need both Chara and Asprilla to continue their run of good form tonight against Dallas. For the Timbers, it’s not necessarily about what’s happened in the past or what they’ll have in the future. All they can do is focus on the present.