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What to watch for against the Portland Timbers

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Three key matchups for Saturday’s battle of Western Conference heavyweights

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers will travel down to Dallas this weekend and try to be the first team to beat FC Dallas this season. The Timbers currently sit atop the MLS standings with 16 points in eight games. Portland are coming off of a shorthanded 2-1 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Who can find space in the midfield?

Diego Valeri has been officially ruled out for Saturday’s game. While watching him match up against Carlos Gruezo would have been fun, this will make three points much easier for Dallas. The only question is how are they going to go about getting these points? The answer starts with either the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-4-2, and we aren’t sure what we’re going to get. The 4-2-3-1 would choose to win the game in the midfield. Valeri’s absence means that Dallas can devote more energy going forward and try to control possession. In a 4-2-3-1 this means running the game through the midfield and making sure that Acosta gets forward and exploits any space he is given. If Acosta can get forward effectively and link up with Javier Morales well, then Dallas should overwhelm Portland. Lining up in the 4-4-2 acknowledges Portland’s weakened midfield, by dedicating a player to striker instead of midfield, Pareja would be challenging Portland to try to withstand the constant pressure of the two strikers. The 4-4-2 tries to prevent Portland from ever even getting the ball into the midfield.

Whichever way Pareja lines up, we’ll be in for an interesting, tactically fluid, fight for space in the midfield.

Adi is back with a vengeance

Fanendo Adi is coming off of a one game suspension against the Vancouver Whitecaps for elbowing Sporting Kansas City defender, Ike Opara. Fanendo Adi is a dangerous striker with a big body and a soft touch. He’s traditionally given Dallas trouble and is a bit of a MLS villain. He’s dirty, crafty, and frustrating; his physical play gives many center backs fits. While Dallas neutralized him last year, the same could be said for Portland’s entire attack. FC Dallas fans will remember his manhandling of Walker Zimmerman during the playoffs in 2015. This game will be a great benchmark to see just how much Zimmerman has improved in two years.

Nagbe is coming for the right back

No one knows who FC Dallas’ right back is currently. It seems to be Hernan Grana, but Atiba Harris’ start against San Jose threw everyone for a bit of a loop. Either way, Dallas is not strong defensively in that position. As polarizing as Grana is, no one will argue that he is a good defender. He loses the ball high up the field and is prone to getting skinned down the wing. He also slips more than any other player in the MLS. While Harris is much less adventurous on the ball, he is still prone to awkward give aways and poor positioning like in the goal that cost FC Dallas two points against San Jose. No matter who is playing the right fullback position, brace for impact when Nagbe is on the ball out wide. He has two goals and three assists in seven games this season, and he’s very capable of adding another to his tally this weekend.