Ugh! After a ridiculous blown win Wednesday night, FC Dallas heads out on the road to take on the Portland Timbers. Portland come in having lost their last one to Montreal. They are now in 11th place in the Western Conference with 17 points. Dallas threw away two points last game and pocketed one leaving them with 26 points and in 4th place in the West.
That bitter taste you have in your mouth right now from last game, wash it away with the hope of a better result this week against Portland. Remind yourself that for 80 minutes or so, the kids looked like they had done it again. A nice, cushy win against an experienced team. Don’t look back at the final 10 minutes, where they lost focus, lost direction, and ultimately lost two extra points. Don’t look back in anger.
In our first season preview with Portland, we saw a team traveling to Dallas in complete shambles. They were the worst team in the league, they were on a ridiculously long road trip due to stadium renovations, and they looked and played exhausted. Jesus Ferreira scored his second goal of the season and Reto Ziegler tucked away a penalty to seal a 2-1 home win. But much has changed since that early season game.
The results since then have been back and forth between wins and losses, with a draw thrown in for good measure. After getting one measly point in their first six games, Portland is up to 17 in their past nine games. Their current form is two wins, two losses, and a draw in their last five.
What sparked the turnaround? Well, as mentioned in the previous preview, Portland was simply too talented to continue playing as poorly as they were. They went on three match win streak after the Dallas loss and then added new striker Brian Fernandez to the mix. The 9-million-dollar man has been around for six games; he’s played in four of them and has five goals! Filling in around him in attack is Diego Valeri, Jeremy Ebobisse and Sebastian Blanco (or in case his injury doesn’t heal up, Marvin Loria). Before Fernandez came in, Ebobisse was leading the line and had a solid output of five goals and an assist. But that’s over 15 games played, which if you do the math…isn’t as quick as five goals in four games. Fortunately for him (and Dallas), Andy Polo is away at the Copa America so Ebobisse will still get some opportunities on the wing and as a second striker.
The midfield is made up of Diego Chara and Renzo Zambrano, or another way to say it, Chara and rotation Player A. Portland sent David Guzman packing to Columbus a few days before buying Fernandez, to open an international spot, and have been filling it with a cast of squad players ever since. Fortunately for them, Chara is a one-man defensive destroyer and can single handedly clean up for the five, six, or seven attacking players in front of him. The back is still made up of Jorge Villafana and Jorge Moreira as the fullbacks and Larrys Mabiala in the middle. Due to injuries, Portland has used a rotating centerback to pair with Mabiala with some combination of Bill Tuiloma, Julio Cascante or Claude Dielna has filled in. With Tuiloma injured, it’s looking like Cascante will be the choice for this game. In a somewhat surprising move, the Timbers appear to be rotating their keeps as of late. Jeff Attinella was the starter for most of the season, but Steve Clark has worked his way into five starts over the past few weeks. I have Clark penciled in if only because the past six games have been a back and forth between the two and it’s Clarks turn to start.
If the past few games are anything to go by, Dallas will have an exciting game on their hands. Dallas has been on the attack all game in their last two since the break a few weeks ago. Its super fun to watch and super terrifying, as threat of counter attacks has gone up. Portland also provides the first big test – this side of the break – with proven internationals down the spine of the field. Fernandez, Valeri, Chara, and Mabiala are all terrific players that know how to slow down an attack, as well as how to take advantage on the counter. The possession numbers from last week feel way more balanced than when I watched the game (51-49 according to WhoScored.com), but either way, Portland will be content to let Dallas soak up possession and then hit them on said counter.
Key Matchup: Paxton Pomykal vs Diego Chara
Really, this could be about Edwin Cerrilo vs Diego Valeri too. Both no. 10s, will be tightly marked all game. Paxton’s been getting beat up pretty good for about two months now and is starting to find his way through it. Chara will test that mindset though and make someone else on Dallas beat them. Cerrilo is going to need to do the same to Valeri. Make someone else be the hero, goodness knows Valeri has been that man enough against Dallas. Whichever playmaker can fight through best will have his team in position to take the points.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Midfield Return or No? – With how well the young midfield has looked, the return of Bryan Acosta will be interesting. Servania has looked terrific but he’s also taking up Acosta’s spot. Does Luchi push aside the past few results to return Acosta to the starting lineup, or use him as a super sub to help shutdown the game?
2. Attack on Fire – Another multi goal game has the offense rolling. Let the fire roll on for this one and hope it’s hot enough to pick up another point or three.
3. Focus on the Finish – What doomed Dallas in the end was a lack of focus on closing out the game. What appeared to be another easy win couldn’t get closed out as the midfield kind of let up on marking their guys and possessing the ball with purpose. Results can turn on a dime sometimes and it takes more than 75, 80, or even 90 minutes to get a result. Lessoned learned for this season.
It’s always tough to go on the road to Portland. Doubly so, I suspect, with their fresh new renovations adding another 4k+ screaming fans. They rested their entire XI last game in Montreal, so they will be fresh and ready to take a shot at another Western Conference foe and begin their assent up the ladder. But Dallas is no pushover. We (I) keep talking about the young guys, but this roster is loaded with top quality vets too. The kids have been leading the way, but the vets provide a solid foundation and fall back plan. They won’t let success cloud reality – or disappointment become a sinking stone. It’s because of guys like Matt Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead, and Michael Barrios that I am optimistic about this team’s future – and probably a bit crazy for this game’s prediction as well – a 2-1 win! Stand By Me, Dallas.