Strong's Notes: Beware The Little Bull
In what was widely agreed by players and coaches as a step in the right direction from a performance and effort standpoint, the Portland Timbers slumped to a fifth straight defeat last Saturday against Chivas USA. Now the opportunity presents itself to build on what positives can be gleaned from that game, and search for revenge against the team that handed the Timbers their biggest MLS loss just two weeks ago, FC Dallas (4pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). In a battle of the bottom of the Western Conference, hopefully we see the type of fight and desperation of two teams who know they’re better than the standings show.
Crash Back Down To Earth
In another quirky bit of scheduling, it’s a second straight week where the Timbers face an opponent they just played, meaning many of the storylines for FC Dallas may ring familiar. A 13 game, three-month, team-record winless streak for FCD was snapped in mid-July in a come-from-behind win at Colorado. That was followed by a comeback attempt at first place San Jose which came up short via a missed penalty kick in stoppage time.
Then, with their biggest star, Brek Shea held out after a public blow up at his coach in the Earthquakes game, their leading scorer and setup man, Blas Perez, unavailable, and their bright young talent, Fabian Castillo, suspended for yellow card accumulation, Dallas roared back with a 5-0 win over the Timbers at their home stadium, their biggest victory—and most goals scored—for three years.
Cue last weekend, their self-titled “biggest game of the year” against the LA Galaxy on national TV in front of the biggest crowd in stadium history—and it was a flat performance in a 1-0 loss that popped the balloon of momentum back up the standings. Now, FC Dallas is back at square one a little bit, hoping to reset at JELD-WEN Field, and re-start their attempt to charge back into the playoff picture.
Getting Faces Back Into The Fold
Shea has been the biggest MLS soap opera the last two weeks and while he’s returned to practice, his status remains uncertain for Sunday after once again being held out against the Galaxy. FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman said they’re giving Shea “a chance to remove himself from the pressure” of a trying season on and off the field.
Castillo, the 20-year-old Colombian, returned to play the second half last week, and with Brazilian winger Jackson—who has four assists in his last four games—listed as out on the Tuesday injury report with concussion symptoms, Castillo is a possibility to start against the Timbers. The same can be said for center back George John: last year’s will-he-or-won’t-he European transfer story just returned from two months away with a concussion of his own, replacing rookie center back Matt Hedges, who picked up a hamstring strain against the Galaxy.
Perez remains doubtful with a sprained foot, and will have to build up fitness since he’s been out since June; and Dallas is still without captain and center back Ugo Ihemelu, who’s been sidelined by a concussion since early May.
Beware The Little Bull
So why a 5-0 win over the Timbers and a different looking team in a 1-0 loss to the Galaxy? Take away the opponents for a moment; the biggest difference was the influence of David Ferreira, and the space and time Dallas had on the ball in all phases of the game. The 2010 MLS MVP, out 14 months with a broken ankle, “El Torito” had two assists and any number of other creative chances against the Timbers, while the Galaxy’s high-pressure defensive game plan—risky given the way teams usually melt in the triple-digit temperatures in Texas—denied him and their dangerous wide players the chance to control the game.
With the home crowd behind them, a hopefully refreshed mindset, and the more friendly confines of the House of Pane, the Timbers will know that they’re in a better position to dictate terms to Dallas. With the entire team itching to get back to what Troy Perkins called “the enjoyment of winning,” Sunday’s national TV platform may be the perfect way to show who the Portland Timbers can really be.