Big D Soccer 1. Both Dallas and Portland recently signed shiny new Argentine players. While FCD's Ezequiel Cirigliano is unlikely to appear this weekend, it seems like the Timbers' new signing might make his debut. Please tell us about Lucas Melano and what he brings to the Portland squad.
Stumptown Footy: Melano has drawn a lot of comparisons from Caleb Porter to Dallas's own Fabian Castillo: a speedy player capable of taking on players, creating opportunities, and scoring goals. He was most recently deployed as a lone striker in a 4-5-1, but it seems probable that he will get his early playing time for the Timbers out wide on the wing.
All we have seen of Melano in Portland so far are a few quick appearances in practice, but the glimpses that we have gotten have been intriguing. Of course, as of the last time we asked Porter about Melano's status, his international teansfer certificate had yet to come through, so it is still up in the air whether he will be available or not in this one.
BDS2. With more than half of the season gone, Portland sits above the red line, 6 points clear of qualifying for the postseason. Do you think the Timbers make it this year? As we slowly inch closer to October, what does the Timbers' schedule look like ahead? Any particularly dangerous stretches of games that have you worried?
STF: The Timbers' remaining season is not a particularly fearsome one. In fact, it is a surprisingly straightforward one. The Timbers will only be playing one game per week for the rest of the year. They will not play more than two games in a row on the road. Only half of the teams that they play are currently in playoff position.
Everything seems primed for the Timbers to end up in the playoffs if they can just throw together another few wins in the final third of the season.
If there is one thing that is worrying about the rest of the Timbers' season so far it is the manner of their wins so far; the Timbers' recent run of results came largely at the expense of teams lacking important players from their lineup. It was a freak series of lineup coincidences, but there remains a real worry in Portland that the Timbers have not made a habit of beating teams that are at full strength. Despite being this deep in the season, it does feel like the Timbers still have something to prove.
BDS3. Although Will Johnson is back in action from a broken leg since our two clubs last met, the Canadian will again miss the match against FCD; this time due to red card suspension. While we will miss seeing him on the field - he is a crucial part of the Timbers squad. Has he returned to his old tenacious self?
STF: Will Johnson is a strange case. He has never been a particularly speedy player, mostly relying on effort and position to get places before his opponents, and since his injury Johnson has certainly gotten all that down again, but there remains a nagging doubt that he has gotten back to his full speed.
An interesting byproduct of this has been the emergence of Johnson as a more deep-lying midfielder, playing behind Diego Chara for large stretches of play, while the Colombian has license to roam the pitch. While this could describe any number of pre-injury games for the pairing of Chara and Johnson, those matches tended to skew more toward a balanced approach between the two players, while recently more defined roles have seemed to emerge.
Of course, asked about all this earlier this year, Johnson pointed out that the Timbers were experimenting with this more defensive role for a midfielder before his injury last season.
With his changing role on the pitch, it can be hard to get a bead on whether or not Johnson has returned to his previous self, but what cannot be argued with are the results. The Timbers are 5-1-1 when Johnson starts this season and 4-6-4 when he doesn't.
Lineup Prediction: Kwarasey; Villafana, Lidgewell, Borchers, Powell; Jewsbury, Chara; Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe; Adi
Not too many surprises in this one. On the back line I think Nat Borchers had a good enough showing against Vancouver -- Man of the Match material -- to hold onto his starting position despite a string of very strong performances from Norberto Paparatto. Additionally, although I think he will be available and will play in the match, I don't think that Melano will get the start as he works his way back to full fitness following some time off between his last match in Argentina and his arrival with the Timbers.
Next up are our answers to Portlandia's questions. Be sure to head on over to Stumptown Footy for their discussion.
Stumptown Footy 1. Fabian Castillo is Dallas's lone member of the 2015 All-Star lineup. How important has he been to Dallas's success this year and what do the Timbers need to do if they want to contain him?
Big D Soccer: Fabian is absolutely critical to what FC Dallas has been building, not only this season but for the future as well. Dallas isn't buying a Drogba or Gerrard or Keane. Dallas acquired a young DP with huge potential and is building a system around him. As Fabian has matured at FC Dallas, we have seen him become more consistent and his skills improve. Oscar Pareja is at the heart of this development.
Portland was actually the first team to figure him out this season; the Timbers handed FCD their first loss back in April. Fabian was very frustrated that game (a few people were frustrated by the end of it). Portland succeeded in containing the young Colombian. I recall a mix of young, fast players and experienced veterans standing in Castillo's way. Caleb Porter deployed Darlington Nagbe and Alvas Powell on the right wing, both guys very capable of staying with Fabi. When the spine guys like Diego Chara and Nat Borchers closed in on defense, as Castillo dribbled toward goal, they were able to anticipate his movement and halt his progress. Borchers is physically dominating, and he knows where to position himself before someone like Fabian gets there first.
Portland will have to replicate that in Frisco where FC Dallas is 7-1-2 in 2015.
STF2. Buoyed by their current four game winning streak, Dallas is currently on top of the Supporters' Shield standings; does this team have what it takes to stay there in a crowded Western Conference?
BDS: Yes if ... the dreaded qualifier ... if everyone stays healthy and in form. Dallas has a fantastic first 11-15 players. However, as we saw in Kansas City in the LHUSOC, the bench is less experienced. As you look down the FCD roster, it's not the talent that drops off but the experience. Dallas has been very methodically building a young roster from the Academy and unearthing other hidden talents. So every guy down the depth chart is a project. They are gaining experience and learning every day but not all are starting MLS quality yet.
All that to say that Dallas can continue on their streak of good results if Oscar can maintain healthy squad rotation and all of his starters. If FCD loses someone like Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castillo, Matt Hedges, or Zach Loyd for more than a game or two, the team will struggle to keep up with the MLS heavyweights.
STF3. Talking about Dallas's current run, FCD seemed to hit a bit of a mid season lull before roaring back to life in the July heat; what spurred the current run of form? Is it the heat, the home cooking, or some personnel and tactical changes?
BDS: Home field advantage means a lot to this team. Maybe you could find some correlation with the age of the players, maybe not. But the 5 game consecutive road trip was hard for FCD. The team suffered a string of bad results. With one exception, those individual games weren't completely insurmountable, but the road trip was. Dallas is 7-1-2 at home in 2015 and 3-4-3 away.
Dallas has been lucky with the Gold Cup and some key calls: Orlando was with Kaka (red card) and Cyle Larin (Gold Cup) for the match against Dallas. DC United was without Bill Hamid (injury) and Fabian Espindola (red card) for their visit to Frisco. With those lucky miracles and Dallas' amazing ability to stay healthy this year, compared to past seasons, the future is looking bright.
I expect the lineup to be the same as the last match. Tesho Akindele will probably be the first substitute in the second half for Barrios or Tex.
Kennedy; Hollingshead, Hedges, Loyd, Harris; Ulloa, Acosta; Castillo, Diaz, Barrios; Texeira