Believe this: the Portland Timbers are undefeated in their last seven matches, undefeated on the road in 2013, are fourth place in the Western Conference, have the sixth best points-per-game average, and also have the sixth best record in the MLS. This is not your cagey, defensive-minded, scattered-in-the-attack Spencer-era Timbers side that enters Dallas tonight.
In fact, these Timbers are far from it. Caleb Porter has instilled a belief within the squad (let’s face it – the city of Portland has continuously embraced the Timbers) that has propelled it into arguably the most-attacking, and pleasurable to watch squad in Major League Soccer. Credit is certainly due to Caleb Porter in these early stages, given the transformation he has sparked in Cascadia.
Not to forget the point of this article and shovel plaudits upon plaudits to the Oregonians, keep in mind that FCD are in first place going into tonight’s match. Furthermore, FCD is undefeated at home, has yet to earn less than three points at home per match in 2013, and boasts the best home goal differential in the league (+7). More credit is certainly due to Schellas Hyndman, if anything, and the consistency (at least in Frisco) he has imparted upon his squad so far this year.
The recent history of the two clubs does not favor the Timbers whatsoever. In two meetings in Frisco the Timbers have only managed a solitary goal and let in ten total goals. Last year’s final fixture in Frisco featured a 5-0 drubbing of Portland in which the Timbers looked simply lost.
History could be easily swept aside, given the aforementioned circumstances in which both sides currently find themselves.
Portland is off to its best start in club history. They attack, almost constantly, and have been as lethal on the counter as they have been dominant in possession match by match in 2013. They are in the midst of an unbeaten streak that is only rivaled by FC Dallas. Ryan Johnson, Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, Will Johnson, and Darlington Nagbe have molded themselves into a respectable attacking cartel – a cartel that has scored only one goal less than Dallas all season.
Given the offensive prowess of both sides and big gaps in the back, this game will boil down to which side can pressure best. Both teams have lynchpins missing the back line: John for FCD, Mikael Silvestre for Portland. Two relatively green replacements will fill these gaps: London Woodberry for FCD, and Andrew Jean-Baptiste for Portland. Dallas has dropped four points from leading positions without George John and with London Woodberry in the back. Portland came very close to capitulating last week at home against New England after the second half exit of Silvestre.
The Timbers attack that was miraculously frustrated by the Revolution last week should go relatively unchanged. Dallas, however, will see the fleet-footed Fabian Castillo filling in for the suspended Jackson on the left flank. Portland’s attacking 4-3-3 formation, which features high-pressing and offensive-minded outside backs, may be the perfect environment for Castillo to do what he does best: put his head down, burn down the line, and serve. The Timbers are, after all, extremely vulnerable on the counter as they often throw so many numbers forward in the attack.
With a Dallas victory, Hyndman’s side could find themselves with 23 points, putting the Timbers 9 points back. A loss would mean only a three point difference between the sides. Regardless, both sides will feel hard-done and ambitious, given the frustrating draws both suffered in their previous matches. Keeping in mind the gaps in the back and the firepower up front, tonight’s tie in Frisco could be eventful.
FC Dallas: 4-2-3-1: Fernandez; Loyd, Woodberry, Hedges, Benitez; Michel, Jacobson; Castillo, Ferreira, Cooper; Perez
Portland Timbers: 4-3-3: Ricketts; Harrington, Jean-Baptiste, Danso, Jewsbury; W Johnson, Chara, Valeri; Wallace, R Johnson, Nagbe
(image courtesy of USA Today Sports Images)