For Week 4, FC Dallas plays host to the Portland Timbers for each teams third gam
I am at a loss about how to start off talking about Portland. Even coming up with a title is hard. Are they the team from last year, with a reigning MVP bossing the middle of field, pulling the strings to all of the attackers with a solid but unheralded defense keeping things tidy in the back? Or, are they the team from their first two games of the season? Losing 2-1 to the Galaxy on Opening Day, and then getting blasted by a mostly second team Red Bulls side 4-0. That New York team was coming off a cross country trip to Tijuana (and back) in three days time. The Timbers are searching for an identity right now just like I’m searching for how to present them to you.
New coach Giovanni Savarese wants this team to high press the opposition. But after week one in LA, where the Galaxy just bypassed the press by running wind sprints down the sideline, he altered tactics in New York. Unfortunately, that didn’t work either. Instead, they gave time and space to New York and were carved up in just about every way you can be. Route 1 down the middle? Check. Counter attack? Check. Even a set piece. Remember how FC Dallas lost the ability to play defense last year? Like the team as a whole didn’t know how to play as a defensive unit? That is Portland right now - the entire team doesn’t know what to do.
Maybe this can all be blamed on not having standout defensive midfielder Diego Chara. He hasn’t played yet this season due to a broken foot from last year. There is a chance he is fit for this match. Much like Gruezo keeps things clean in front of our defense, Chara does the same, only probably more, for Portland. He doesn’t really need a partner in midfield, so that frees up Portland to send another guy forward on the attack. This is usually where I try to offer some guidance as to what Portland will try to do offensively and defensively, but I’m not even sure they know at the moment, so I won’t waste anyones time. But know this, Diego Valeri is an offense unto himself. Twenty-one goals and 11 assists last season is nothing to scoff at. He was directly involved with over half of Portlands goal total last season through goals and assists. He likes to trail the play and pop up at the top of the box where he can do, well, whatever he wants. If Dallas fails to track him at any time, we are playing with fire, errr, a chainsaw. Axe blade? Wood-chipper? Never mind.
Carlos Gruezo vs. Diego Valeri. I often make the matchup an offense vs. defense, or vice versa comparison because they are directly connected during the game. Most people see this as a matchup of two of the best 10’s in the league. Who runs the offense best, Mauro Diaz or Valeri? But besides being a contrarian, I don’t believe it tells the right story. Diaz has never had a season even close to scoring 21 goals. He is all about the pass, looking to play through one of his teammates on goal, sometimes eschewing an opportunity to shoot himself. The talent and structure Dallas plays around Diaz means he is constantly a threat to make someone else a bigger threat. In Portland, Valeri is the biggest threat. Fernando Adi should be the biggest threat, literally. His size and speed should dominate just about every backline he faces. But often times, he isn’t the threat he could be. If Gruezo can put the clamps on Valeri, Portland has, so far, not shown they can do much more to hurt you.
Keys to the Game
- Work the backline - Obviously the aim in every game is to break down the backline to score a goal, duh. But especially this game, Dallas will be playing against a team that was torn apart by an (almost) USL team. Our wingers should be cutting inside all game, working one-twos with Maxi or Mauro and slicing into open space behind the back line. Isolating either of Portlands full backs is a viable way to easy chance creation.
- Make it Hard to Press - If Portland goes back to team-pressing and if Reggie Cannon gets isolated along his touch line, it will be dangerous. You always want to get that isolation of a single player when you press, but a young player whose been somewhat shaky so far when pressed? That’s when turnovers really take a toll. Matt Hedges, Reto Ziegler and even Jimmy Maurer have to give Reggie safe outlets to escape to if he gets caught on an island. Similarly, taking the time to pass around the press needs to be a team focus. Back passes and side passes may be boring, but they are a safe and effective against pressing teams. It takes the sting out of the initial pressure and wears down the opposition over time, as they have to cover more and more space to press.
- Sloppy Passes - Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Dallas can be really sloppy in possession sometimes. Misplaying passes, heavy touches, even just running forward with no plan *cough *Roland Lamah* cough* are offenses we see every game. We need to start tightening up our play in the middle third of the pitch. A turnover there means Portland is one pass away from Valeri bearing down on our back line. We do not want to see that situation. Even against Seattle we let loose play almost sink the ship. After Dempsey went off they had no one to make us pay. Portland will.
Just like last week, I once again feel like I need to walk back some optimism. Our defense was better last game, but not great. Relying on Ziegler and Hedges blocking shots in our own box, against a 10-man Seattle team without it’s best attacker is not a reliable strategy on defense. Yes, the offense scored three last game, but the amount of wasted chances was appalling. Go read Jack Rouse’s piece from earlier this week for a better picture. I can see the puzzle pieces falling into place for Dallas. I believe we will win this game. I don’t think a team can fix the kind of defensive issue Portland exhibited last game in just a few weeks. But I can’t escape the lingering feeling that this is a trap game. That Portland does still have multiple players who can beat us. 2-1 is the call from me, but it’s going to be nervy. Hopefully our team identity continues to crystalize, and we send Portland along to continue looking for answers.