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The Importance of Leg One in the Conference Finals

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In the Conference Semifinals against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Portland Timbers could afford not to score at home. Tired from their marathon match against Sporting Kansas City only three days before and facing a team notorious for their sub-par home form, the Timbers rightly had every confidence that they could go to BC Place and get a result if they just kept things under control at home.

This time the Timbers need to get the job done at Providence Park.

Fully rested after two long weeks of waiting since their last match, the Portland Timbers are now set to go up against the cream of the crop in the Western Conference: FC Dallas. Dallas just missed out on winning the Supporters' Shield this year, falling short of the New York Red Bulls' superior goal differential.

While the Whitecaps posted the strongest road record in the league (7-7-3) and the weakest home record of the playoff teams in the Western Conference (9-6-2), Dallas finished the season with the strongest home record in the league (13-2-2) and a thoroughly moderate road record (5-8-4).

Dallas's strength at home and vulnerability on the road this year have been well illustrated by their two matches against the Timbers in 2015. The teams' first match up, played at Providence Park back in April, saw the Timbers get their first win of the season -- and Dallas their first loss -- as the Timbers went up 3-1 thanks to a second half goal scoring surge following a stalemated 1-1 first half. The second meeting between the two teams came deep in the middle of the summer as Dallas ran over the Timbers 4-1 at Toyota Stadium in late July, capping off a five-game winning streak for the Hoops.

That the Timbers' loss came in the July heat with temperatures hovering around the century mark certainly affected the match, but the Frisco heat can not be given all of the credit for Dallas's home success. Even as the regular season wrapped up and the temperatures dipped in the Lone Star State, Dallas has continued winning at home and are currently riding a six game winning streak at Toyota Stadium, including their 2-1 second leg win over the Seattle Sounders in the Conference Semifinals.

Dallas gets the job done at home and even a team as strong on the road as the Timbers can't count on an away result there. For Portland, home form has been an iffy proposition for much of the season and one that was not looking great going into the playoffs, with the team going only 1-2-2 in their final five matches at Providence Park.

Of course, the lone win in those five was the Timbers' final match of the season, a 4-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids. For the Timbers, the hope will be that the win against Colorado and the subsequent shut-down tie against the Whitecaps represent a tick-up in the team's home fortunes, as anything less than a home win will make the second leg of this home and away series very difficult.