For the final regular season game, the Portland Timbers have a much more difficult task than they did this time last year. Instead of a trip to play hapless Chivas USA (which the Timbers won 5-0), Portland flew from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to Dallas for the regular season finale. In their way is FC Dallas, winners of three of four including over Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy. If Portland is to reach the playoffs they'll need help from Vancouver Whitecaps and need to best the result of the newly crowned Cascadia Cup winners. So to find out where things stand for FC Dallas, we reached out to Big D Soccer's Brian Wachholz for answers to three questions:
1. After a come-from-behind win against LA Galaxy the week before, FC Dallas managed to only beat Colorado Rapids 1-0 through a Blas Perez penalty. Any signs that Dallas might be vulnerable? Or was the score not reflective of the performance against Colorado?
The performance was below expectations for FC Dallas. Both teams missed a lot of chances; there should have been more goals. The one take away that is indicative of this Dallas team, however, is the ability to gut out a result. Time and time again this season, FCD has fought for points, even when they aren't firing on all cylinders.
FCD is riding high with a lot of confidence right now. The team has beat every western conference playoff opponent this season. A lot of teams are going to dread seeing this team in the playoffs. With all that being said, the next match is against Portland at home. Dallas has gone 10 seasons since winning their last home regular season match. It's ridiculous to think about. Beating Portland would break a very long, ugly streak. The team isn't vulnerable right now; they are motivated. Motivated to break that trend, motivated to finish in 3rd place, and motivated to keep winning into the playoffs.
2. With third place on the line, it seems unlikely Dallas would hold anyone out of Saturday's game. But with the possibility that it could be the Timbers in the play-in game next week against the Hoops, do you expect anything unusual from Oscar Pareja this weekend?
I don't expect anything you haven't seen before. Pareja has been brave to experiment this season and continue to tinker with the starting eleven when something seems amiss. I think you will see a lineup similar to what we saw in the second half against Colorado last weekend. I think OP will select the combination of Tesho Akindele and Blas Perez over David Texeira - although the Uruguayan has done well in recent weeks. OP and FCD will go all in on this match. If they win that gamble, it will pay off with additional rest, bypassing the play-in match. It's double-or-nothing though because losing this gamble will mean that FCD faces a quick turnaround midweek match after exhausting all the starters on Saturday. It will make for an interesting game.
3. Which Timbers players are you most worried about, especially with the possibility of playing twice in a short period of time?
I'll be watching out for Pa Modou Kah and Donovan Ricketts. Kah seems to know which buttons to push when it comes to his temperamental opponents. One of the downsides of having a youthful team is that a rookie mindset doesn't always have that experience to know how to mitigate a hard defender chipping away for 90 minutes. FCD is behaving well this second part of the season, but that is only after earning a bunch of red cards earlier on in the campaign. Ricketts knows how to come up big when it really matters. He did it for Los Angeles. I'm sure many of the Timbers Army are hoping he can do it for Portland.
On the offensive side, the combination play between Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe, and Fanendo Adi has me a little bit concerned. It only takes one mistake for those guys to finish a chance. FCD has been punished in the past. I think Nagbe particularly likes scoring goals against Dallas. It's going to take some real cohesion in the Dallas backline to keep those attackers at bay. I think that's why we'll see Loyd paired up with Hedges again. The experience and intelligence he brings far outweighs his slightly shorter stature compared to Walker Zimmerman.
Raul Fernandez, Kellyn Acosta, Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges, JeVaughn Watson, Victor Ulloa, Adam Moffat, Fabian Castillo, Andres Escobar, Blas Perez, Tesho Akindele