After a final loss to end the season on a three-game losing streak for FC Dallas as they slid from the number one seed to the fourth spot in the Western Conference. Dallas ended the season with 57 points, behind SKC, Seattle, and LAFC. Because of that dismal stretch, the Hoops will be playing the midweek game against the Portland Timbers. Portland comes to Texas having won two of their last three games and played a B squad in the loss anyways. The Timbers ended the season with 54 points, good for fifth place in the West.
Welcome to the playoffs, glad you made it. Now focus on this swinging watch and repeat after me – “It’s a new season in the Playoffs. It’s a new season in the Playoffs. It’s a new season in the Playoffs.” Did that work? I didn’t think so.
It’s really hard to look at this Dallas team and from the past month and expect anything more than a first round loss. But let’s try to look at the bright side and evaluate this first playoff game. Luckily, it’s at home. Good, first positive. Unluckily, Portland knew it would be playing in one of the midweek games, so they rested everyone of importance in the Sunday game to prepare for this one. Face-palm. Both games against the Timbers have been draws this season. The first one, way back in way back in March finished 1-1 and the most recent one a few weeks ago was a goalless duel.
Portland has recently rediscovered their attacking prowess and it does not bode well for Dallas. Before their last game, which featured the subs and kids, Portland beat Real Salt Lake 3-0 in front of their home fans. The game before that, they beat RSL 4-1 in Utah. Apart from the goose egg against Dallas, Portland have put in 10 goals across their last five games. A big key has been a switch back to the 4-2-3-1 formation and a recommitment to the counter. When coach Giovane Savarese was brought in, he brought with him a possession-based game that, over the course of the regular season, ran hot and cold. But the past few weeks have seen Portland adopt the more popular sit and counter approach and it has reinvigorated the offense. With Sebastian Blanco on the left and Andy Polo on the right, Portland has two speedy wingers to bomb up and down the flanks. Place Valeri in the middle and you have a recipe for success. Valeri is one of the few N0. 10s who can actually do everything. He has great vision, great touch for passes and possession, and great attacking ability. He can just as easily start a counter attack as finish it, sometimes even both.
Bolstering this attack is former first round pick Jeremy Ebobisse. The young striker is staking his claim as a clinical finisher, if not much else. (Dallas would be delighted to have a finisher, much less a clinical one.) Behind those attackers lie the real strength of the team – Guzman and Chara. The two midfielders work so well together, they are impossible to replace when either is out. It’s very much the way Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo used to work, with Guzman being the more attack minded Kellyn and Chara cleaning up like Gruezo. Guzman can make the range of passes necessary to start an attack or keep it flowing, but also does well in splitting passing lanes and carrying the ball forward once in possession. Chara is still a midfield destroyer, happy to do any of the dirty work his team requires and to shuffle along passes when needed.
Backing them up even further is the more solidified back line of Villafana, Ridgewell, Mabiala, and Valentin. Looking at the last few games puts this back line in a positive light, but a few games further back shows how inconsistent they can be. Mabiala has been a steady force in the middle but his partner Ridgewell is a question. He can be very capable on his day, but is usually the one to blame if a breakdown does happen in the middle. Valentin is the steady outside back every team needs. Never too high, never too low and it allows Villafana to get up and down the other side of the field and help out in the attack.
For Dallas, this game needs to be about getting back to the basics that had this team cruising early in the season. A shutdown defense that stifled attacks high up the field, with a bit of luck and stellar goalkeeping tossed in for good measure. If you don’t let the other team score, you always have a chance. That chance then needs to be taken by someone. Early in the season it was Maxi and Lamah. Then we had Barrios and Ziegler and just a string of different guys on different days. It was fun, but ultimately un-rewarding, much lack Halloween candy. Dallas still finished in the bottom half of the league in goals scored and the attack totally fell apart down the stretch. This game is screaming for a random Lamah or Barrios goal to get things moving in the right direction. If it doesn’t come, I fear the worst.
Key Matchup: Reggie Cannon vs Sebastian Blanco
It’s been forever since I included Cannon in a preview (maybe that’s been the problem) but he will be front and center for this clash. Blanco has been hugely influential over the past few games and has the ability to take on any defender in the league and win. But Reggie has been no slouch this season, maybe even becoming one of the best right backs in the league. I doubted him early in the season and he kept proving himself. Dallas needs him to prove once again how great he is and shut down this extremely important matchup.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Defense Wins It – This was the top key last week and it went over like a lead balloon. But its a new season in the playoffs and Dallas needs to get this together to have a prayer of advancing. Keep Portland off the scoreboard and we advance.
2. Beware the Counter – Also a hold-over from last week, but this one is even more dangerous. Blanco and Polo are miles better than anyone Colorado has and even worse, are more productive. Shut down the wings and you have a chance.
3. Creative Attack – Dallas needs to get creative in the attacking third if they want to shake this losing streak. It would also help to simply finish the easy chances they create almost every game. I really don’t know how else to say it – some person with a Dallas jersey (on the field) needs to start scoring goals like they are paid too.
What more is there to say? It’s been the refrain all month and for a lot of the season. If the attack shows up, Dallas has a good chance to win – against any team in the league. But far too often the attack has been left at the gate or on the practice fields. If you happen to come across any other playoff previews from any other site, you will most likely see Portland being picked to win. They are in better form no doubt. But Portland has been just as much of a roller-coaster team as Dallas. I think they are just as likely to come out flat as Dallas, so 50-50 for both teams. Dallas has, on balance, a better defense. But the attack is where the money gets made, so to speak, and Portland has the clear edge there. I am realistic about our chances – I don’t really like them – but hopeful that with their backs against the wall, Dallas will come out with some real fight. No game call for me this week – this is the playoffs I don’t want to jinx them on Halloween – but try to be optimistic, knowing that the Hoops have beaten the best teams in the league this season, and have the ability to do so tonight.