Back in midweek action again, the Portland Timbers travel take on FC Dallas on Wednesday (6pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.
A brief history…
Previously known as Dallas Burn, this franchise has been involved in MLS since its inception and they play at the soccer-specific FC Dallas Stadium, which can hold up to 20,500 supporters. Clark Hunt, son of the legendary Lamar Hunt, is the owner of the club.
Dallas’ best season came in 2010 when they pushed the Colorado Rapids all the way in the MLS Cup final, but eventually lost. They have won the Western Conference (2006) and lifted the US Open Cup (1997), while twice finishing as runners-up in that competition.
How did they fare last season?
Failure to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009 stung for Schellas Hyndman’s team as they finished just outside of the postseason places. A slump in midseason, where they lost six out of eight games in the months of May and June, came back to haunt them despite a good finish to the campaign.
In terms of personnel, the emergence of Matt Hedges, the development of Fabian Castillo, and the return of captain David Ferreira from serious injury, were huge positives. They also managed to re-sign highly-rated defender George John to a new contract, but winger and U.S. international Brek Shea left for Stoke City.
Who have they brought in for this season?
It was a busy offseason for Hyndman as he looked to add some depth to his roster by bringing in former USL Timber Stephen Keel, Jamaica international Je-Vaughn Watson, former France midfielder Peter Luccin, and the return of Ramon Nunez for a second stint at the club.
It was in the forward department where they made their big moves though with Eric Hassli and ex-Timber Kenny Cooper coming in from Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls respectively. Dallas also made two noteworthy moves in recruiting Peru goalkeeper Raul Fernandez and Brazilian defender Michel, who have slotted in nicely to their team already.
How have they done so far this season?
It has been a great start to the campaign for Dallas with a record of 6-1-2 – the only loss came in their second outing away to Chivas USA. Since then, they have toppled some early favorites for MLS Cup, including Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake, and reigning champions LA Galaxy. With talk of a new Designated Player coming in, they are being viewed as serious contenders to make the playoffs.
On closer inspection, Dallas has been very tight defensively with five clean sheets recorded and a high-pressure game that is designed to close down their opponents before they get close to their goal. However, in their last game, a 2-2 tie with Vancouver Whitecaps, they allowed the opposition to unload 27 attempts on goal.
Head coach: Schellas Hyndman
Appointed in 2008 following a hugely successful career coaching college soccer, Hyndman guided Dallas to their only MLS Cup final appearance to date. He has brought an exciting brand of soccer, worked behind the scenes to improve the level of coaching and scouting, while also helping individual players to reach the next level in their careers.
Star Player: Blas Perez
This much-travelled striker landed in Dallas last season and had an instant impact by scoring some important goals. The Panama international is big, strong and aggressive, which makes him the ideal candidate to lead the line. He can link up with other forwards, but he is excellent at holding off defenders, making space for others, and getting into dangerous positions to score.
One To Watch: Matt Hedges
A real star on the rise, this New York native has excelled since being selected as the No. 11 pick in last year’s MLS SuperDraft. He is a tall defender, who covers a lot of ground very quickly, and is cool under pressure. If he can sharpen up his passing and add more goals to his game, then he will be hyped up just as much as his center back partner, George John.
What can the Timbers expect?
Dallas have altered their style of play following their offseason signings with their counter-attacking style of last season replaced by a strategy that is all about keeping pressure on the opposition. By getting the ball forward early, they try to trap teams inside their own half and capitalize on any mistakes.
Aggressive in midfield with Michel and Andrew Jacobson breaking up play, they play at a high tempo with Jackson, Fabian Castillo and Cooper the targets when they break forward. There is also support from the outside backs in Zach Loyd and Jair Benitez, who make a lot of overlapping runs on the flanks – similar to what the Timbers dealt with against Sporting Kansas City.
Where are they most vulnerable?
If they commit too many men forward when attacking, Dallas are bound to be left short at the back and can therefore be outnumbered. However, they have tended to use their extra man in midfield to provide defensive cover, so, for the Timbers, it is all about trying to isolate that deep-lying midfielder and open up gaps by stretching them out wide.
With their two center backs – John and Hedges – dominant in the air, it will be a challenge to win that first and second ball in the attacking third. Getting in behind them could prove to be a route to goal as the pace of Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe is a weapon that the Timbers can use to their advantage, if the right service is played through to them.
Who are their main threats?
The most obvious threat is Perez, because of his size and knack of scoring vital goals. Yet, playmaker Ferreira is amongst the very best in MLS at splitting defenses open with his piercing passes and he can be a massive difference-maker if not marked closely enough. Both Will Johnson and Diego Chara will have to be on high alert to limit Ferreira’s influence.
Timbers fans know all about Cooper and the havoc that he can wreak, while Toronto FC supporters will preach the same about Frenchman Hassli. Dallas, though, is a lot more than a team of big men with the likes of Castillo, Jackson, Nunez and Watson adding speed and creativity to their midfield. They move up the pitch quite quickly and try to make the most of set-pieces.
Previous Meetings in MLS
2011: April 17 – Portland Timbers 3-2 FC Dallas
2011: June 25 – FC Dallas 4-0 Portland Timbers
2012: March 17 – FC Dallas 1-1 Portland Timbers
2012: July 21 – FC Dallas 5-0 Portland Timbers
2012: August 5 – Portland Timbers 1-1 FC Dallas
Record vs FC Dallas: 1-2-2
Did You Know?
Defender Zach Loyd is married to Casey Nogueira, who plays in the NWSL for FC Kansas City, who the Portland Thorns tied with in their season opener.
Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.