Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, it is time to turn our attention back on the soccer field as FC Dallas gets ready to battle the Portland Timbers on Sunday in the second leg of the Western Conference finals.
As we all know by now, Portland brings a 3-1 lead to Frisco. While the lead looks commanding on paper, the last time the two sides met in Texas, FC Dallas dominated the Timbers to a 4-1 scoreline. With all of that, we have plenty of questions going into what could either end FC Dallas' season or extend it to one final week at MLS Cup.
1. Will Oscar Pareja make any changes?
One thing Pareja has done over the last few weeks, heck, even the last couple of months is keeping a fairly consistent lineup. The midfield hasn't changed much other than Kellyn Acosta returning to the lineup over Ezequiel Cirigliano. The defense has largely been the same makeup of Matt Hedges, Zach Loyd, Je-Vaughn Watson and Ryan Hollingshead. Jesse Gonzalez has taken the goalkeeper position by storm and David Texeira has beaten out the likes of Blas Perez and Tesho Akindele for the starting striker role.
As we enter the second leg, the question has to be asked, will Pareja make any changes? Loyd was largely over matched in the first leg of the conference finals by Fernando Adi, Darlington Nagbe and Dairon Asprilla. Loyd's size on set pieces was a big issue as well as he caused the Liam Ridgewell goal. So would a Walker Zimmerman be the better option in this case? Yes and no, I still prefer Zimmerman off the bench to Loyd's leadership on the field. This just means a guy like Victor Ulloa or Acosta need to step up to relieve the pressure off Loyd. Or it means that Perez needs to start over Texeira to help with set pieces.
Outside of those two moves, I couldn't see Pareja shake up the lineup all that much. Akindele is an option but only off the bench as I don't like him in the lone striker role either. You really need to have Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios on the field as much as possible, and Akindele would likely take the place of one of them more so than of Texeira from what I've seen this season.
2. Has Portland done enough to put away Dallas?
A two goal lead is always the most dangerous one in soccer. That is an expression we've heard dozens of times. The thing is that last goal was huge for the Timbers. The momentum is on their side right now and we'll hear a ton about their road record going into this one.
The more I look at it though, the more I don't think they were able to do enough. Why? It is simple, they gave up a road goal. A shutout would have been so much better than the 3-1 win. Just look at Columbus and their series with New York. I'm not confident in New York at the moment to think they'll come back in that series.
Anyways, back on point here. Portland knows they have a good lead and some advantages going into this one but they'll also not be able to just sit back and allow Dallas to pressure for 90 minutes either. They have to push for at least one goal.
3. Does the previous meeting in Frisco have any merit?
I hate going back to previous results in series like this but at some point you do have to either throw it out or analyze it to death to find something of worth. Dallas beat Portland back in the summer 4-1. We all remember that night well. Barrios had two wonderful goals as he looked like a monster on the field against pretty much the same Timbers defense. Acosta scored his first goal on a night that he was starting to heat up in. And Mauro Diaz got a penalty kick goal.
Both teams will largely field the same groups come Sunday as well. There may be a couple changes here and there like Jesse Gonzalez being in goal over Dan Kennedy (that isn't changing any time soon), or with how Portland stacks up in their attack.
I think though that Dallas has to find the upper hand early in this one like they did back in July. That July match proved a lot to me about this club and about Portland at the time. The Timbers may be different since then and a little tougher in places but they still have largely the same issues in the back as on that warm July evening. Get the ball to Diaz, get it on the wings to Castillo and Barrios and finish the chances in front of the net. Take care of things in the back like they did that night in July and we're looking at a MLS Cup trip.