The Portland Timbers’ hectic schedule keeps on rolling as they take on FC Dallas in the quarter-finals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night (6pm PT, 750 AM The Game, webstream: www.fcdallas.com). Here’s the lowdown on the opposition.
What can the Timbers expect?
It is going to be a tough game and the Timbers will know from their two previous meetings in MLS already this season that Dallas never give up fighting. With big, physically-imposing players all over the pitch, they challenge for aerial balls, launch into tackles, and hold their own in one-on-one contests. They are a team that defends from the front – meaning that their strikers set the example of chasing down the opposition to make blocks and tackles – and that work ethic ripples throughout the team.
Far from being just a side that relies on workrate alone, Dallas possesses a lot of quality in players, like David Ferriera, who provide a creative outlet for them. They tend to shift the ball forward quite quickly, especially out wide where players like Fabian Castillo and Jackson can take on outside backs at pace or cross into the penalty area from deep. And they also have players who take aim with shots from distance, which can be a real source of goals.
Where are they most vulnerable?
In their last outing – a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City – Dallas were missing Jair Benitez, so Michel switched from center midfield to left back. While the Brazilian is versatile enough to play there, the team missed his influence in the middle of the pitch, where Je-Vaughn Watson struggled to have a similar impact. And that highlighted a weakness that the team has if they are without either Michel or Andrew Jacobsen, as they are the two enforcers in midfield.
Behind them, the defensive line has stood up well this season with 20 goals conceded from 16 league games. Although, centerback Matt Hedges did go off injured against Kansas and they turned to rookie Walker Zimmerman. If they are not at full strength on Wednesday night, then the Timbers could exploit that with their preference of a lone frontman such as Ryan Johnson or Frederic Piquionne dragging centerbacks out of position.
Who are their main threats?
With Eric Hassli out injured, the return of both Kenny Cooper and Blas Perez has been huge for Dallas, because they are a team who uses their frontmen as targets and linkmen. Everything about their play going forward is designed to get the ball into their strikers, who can supply that all-important finishing touch or else hold up the ball to bring others into attacks, like Ferriera.
There is a lot of speed in the team with Jackson and Castillo as well as with the outside backs – normally Zach Loyd and Jair Benitez – but the two key men in the Dallas line-up when it comes to creating goalscoring opportunities are Ferriera and Michel. The former is a classy playmaker that drifts around the pitch sliding passes through to teammates, while Michel is a set-piece expert, who can deliver inch-perfect crosses.
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: Raul Fernandez
Recruited this season to replace the long-serving Kevin Hartman, this Peru international has consistently stood out and emerged as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. The 27-year-old is an agile shot-stopper, quick off his line, accurate with his kicking, and just a dominant presence at the back. With six clean sheets recorded, Fernandez has been just as important to Dallas as their strikers.
One To Watch: Fabian Castillo
Still only 21-years-old, this lightning-quick attacker has been a big addition to Dallas’ roster since arriving in 2011. While he still has a lot of development in certain areas of his game to work on, there is no doubt that he is one of the most difficult players in the league to stop when in top gear. Devastatingly quick with the ball at his feet, the Colombian terrorizes outside backs, shifts into clever positions and can either create goalscoring chances or finish them.
What happened when the teams last met?
A piece of individual brilliance from Darlington Nagbe decided a tense game with a 1-0 win in MLS play, but the Timbers felt that they deserved to win by a greater margin. Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez was in outstanding form as he made seven saves – denying Diego Valeri and Diego Chara with superb stops. Will Johnson also cracked a shot off the post as the Timbers’ dominated on the counter attack and kept on pushing for that second goal which never arrived.
What did the Timbers learn from that game?
Timbers coach Caleb Porter will have taken note of just how reliant Dallas is on their big forwards. With Perez sick, Cooper pulling out due to a family issue, and Hassli limping off after just eight minutes, their entire gameplan went out the window as they had nobody to hold the ball up front or to target with their long passes and crosses from the flanks.
In midfield, Dallas worked hard but ended up spending most of their time chasing Johnson’s and Chara’s shadows as the duo controlled that vital area of the pitch. While they are a very good team with all of their pieces, Dallas found it incredibly difficult to keep up with the Timbers’ movement as well as not coming up with a plan to shackle Nagbe and Valeri, who could be hugely important again on Wednesday night.
What did the coaches have to say at the time?
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“We’re continuing to make progress as a team and that’s very important. Games are going to be tight in this league. You would’ve liked to score that second goal and get a bit more breathing room, but sometimes it doesn’t fall. It was a good result.”
FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman
“It was a great strike [from Nagbe]. It was disappointing, we’re not a team that plays on turf and defends on turf. Nagbe did a good job. He’s very good at turning and George [John] was just a little bit too far off him and he put it exactly where he needed to put it – it was a great goal.”
How has Dallas fared since then?
Hyndman’s side has only played once – just like the Timbers – since the teams last met, where they earned a credible 2-2 tie with Sporting Kansas City. After Kei Kamara put the visitors ahead just before halftime, Dallas slipped further behind through an own goal from Je-Vaughn Watson. But they roared back with Andrew Jacobsen and Zimmerman both scoring to earn a point.
How did they reach the quarter-finals?
A 2-0 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the Third Round set them on their way as Perez and Hedges notched in the goals against their NASL opponents, which was their first win on the road in the U.S. Open Cup since 2007 – and one that they had to fight hard for with goalkeeper Chris Seitz making a couple of important saves.
In the Fourth Round, there was no mercy shown to their Texas rivals, Houston Dynamo as they ran out 3-0 winners in front of 40,006 supporters at FC Dallas Stadium. A brace from Cooper and one from Loyd did the damage as Michel’s deliveries caused havoc in the Houston penalty area and Dallas took advantage to reach the round of 16.
Did You Know?
This will be the fourth meeting between the Timbers and FC Dallas this year having faced off in preseason and twice already in the league, while there is still another league clash scheduled for August at JELD-WEN Field.
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.