For the fourth time this season, the Portland Timbers square up to FC Dallas as they meet at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday (8pm PT, KPDX, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940). Find out all you need to know about the opposition.
What can the Timbers expect?
It has been quite a mixed season for Dallas so far. At the beginning, when they went on a nine-game unbeaten run, the talk was that they could challenge for the MLS Cup with the arrivals of Kenny Cooper, Eric Hassli, Michel and Raul Fernandez strengthening the spine of their team. But injuries have left him short in big games and their defense has been exposed several times – conceding three or more goals on five different occasions.
Yet, they are an extremely dangerous team once they have a full roster to select from and they get their rhythm going with playmaker David Ferreira pulling the strings like a master puppeteer. They are one of the few teams in the league who can combine speed with skill, while also having the tools and personnel to scrap for points. There is no doubt that they will cause the Timbers problems.
Where are they most vulnerable?
For a team that has such a dominant center-back partnership in George John and Matt Hedges, it is odd that they are perceived to be vulnerable defensively. Part of the reason for that is the games that the duo has missed, thus meaning others, such as rookie London Woodberry, has been forced to step up. But even with John and Hedges in their backline, this team can be caught out if they are not given enough support from their midfield.
With the way that they set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Dallas relies heavily on Andrew Jacobson as their defensive midfielder. Often he can be tasked with doing too much when his team pushes forward on counter attacks and that is when gaps appear that the opposition can roam into. If he is left isolated, then someone like Diego Valeri can take advantage and help to heap pressure on Dallas’ defense.
Who are their main threats?
Still pushing to capture one of the playoff spots in the Western Conference, Dallas will turn to Ferreira and Michel to act as their creative sparks. The pair has supplied a combined total of 10 assists this season and their targets are usually Blas Perez, Cooper and Hassli – three big men with good records in front of goal. While Cooper and Hassli have proved to be shrewd additions, it is Panama international Perez who is their main man up front.
Aside from the sheer power – both in the air and on the ground – that their trio of big-name forwards brings, Dallas also has another weapon in their speed. With the likes of Fabian Castillo and Jackson setting up in midfield and Zach Loyd and Jair Benitez attacking from outside back, they use the width of the pitch to their advantage. On top of that, the recent signings of Brazilian Erick and Argentinean Mauro Diaz provides them with extra guile.
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: Kenny Cooper
A one-time member of the Timbers in inaugural 2011 season, this powerful 28-year-old is amongst the league’s most effective forwards. The ex-Manchester United trainee is in his second spell with Dallas, where he has already played a variety of attacking roles. While his size and posture suggests that he is a target man, Cooper is actually best when running at defenders with the ball at his feet.
One To Watch: Mauro Diaz
The newest recruit for Dallas, this 22-year-old made his debut in the recent 3-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders and showed glimpses of his technical ability. Able to connect play with his short passing and movement, the Argentinean should have a big impact on the team once he adapts to the intensity of the league and figures out where he can help his team. Having been educated at the famous River Plate club, big things are expected of him.
What happened when the teams last met?
Having met twice already in the league, the Timbers beat Dallas 3-2 in Frisco, Texas to knock them out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at the quarterfinal stage. After Je-Vaughn Watson opened the scoring, Darlington Nagbe netted a superb solo effort before Valeri and Frederic Piquionne got one apiece, which meant that Perez’ late goal didn’t matter as the Timbers marched on to set up a tie with Real Salt Lake.
What did the Timbers learn from that game?
Every time that they play against Dallas, the Timbers are made to work to claim a positive result. Time and again, their red-and-white striped opponents came roaring back into the game and were unlucky not to tie it right at the end when Perez rattled the post with a stinging effort. The game showed that Dallas does not give up easily and that there are not huge differences between the two teams once they get going.
The other – and most important – thing that the Timbers learned was that they can beat Dallas. The movement of both Valeri and Nagbe caused their opponents a lot of problems, while the energy and shot-taking from Will Johnson kept them under pressure throughout. So the message from head coach Caleb Porter should simply be to do what they did last time, but make sure that they tighten up at the back and restrict Dallas to few chances on goal.
What did the coaches have to say at the time?
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“It was a total team effort. When your backs are against the wall, you dig deep and you find a way. This team just continues to find ways to win games.”
FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman
“I thought we played extremely well that first 30 minutes and got a goal. We really should have gotten another goal. Second half, we came out and just made some uncharacteristic mistakes in the back that led to the defeat.”
How has Dallas fared since then?
Since that last game with the Timbers, Dallas has not won a single game. In fact, they have not celebrated a victory since overcoming Houston Dynamo in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup back in June and their last league win was over San Jose Earthquakes in late May. However, they have collected quite a few draws and showed great resolve to earn a 3-3 tie with LA Galaxy in their last outing.
Did You Know?
In September 2012, FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz went through an operation to donate bone marrow to help a stranger, who was suffering with leukemia.
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.