The month of March ends with a big Western Conference showdown as FC Dallas hosts the Portland Timbers at Toyota Stadium.
The Timbers come into this Saturday’s match with a 0-1-2 record on the season. Caleb Porter’s side lost 2-0 to the Colorado Rapids last weekend with goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts red carded in the second half. The Rapids were able to capitalize shortly after with goals from Victente Sanchez and Deshorn Brown from the penalty spot to give Colorado the win.
In the all-time series between FC Dallas and Portland, the road team has yet to win a single game. Last year, the Timbers won the season series with two wins in Oregon, the lone match in Frisco ended in a 1-1 draw.
Porter’s side hasn’t had a ton of injuries to deal with so far this season. Steven Evans and Rodney Wallace are out with long-term injuries,but the only question marks going into this weekend are defender Pa Modou Kah and midfielder Kalif Alhassan.
Diego Chara vs Mauro Diaz – The game could likely be determined based on who wins this overall battle. Chara is the type of player that can be physical without picking up too many unnecessary cards. If he is able to play an up-front type of game on Diaz, it could disrupt the Dallas offense.
Darlington Nagbe vs Matt Hedges - Dallas fans know Nagbe as the “Dallas-killer” based on his play in 2013 against FCD. As Dallas fans saw last year, he can score goals out of nowhere and is always finding himself in good spots to be dangerous in the attack. Hedges will need to keep a close eye on what Nagbe is able to do on and off the ball.
Key Player for Portland
Diego Valeri - The Argentine Designated Player hasn’t had nearly the same type of impact on this season so far when you compare it to his 2013 season, but it's early and he is still the main guy none-the-less in the Portland attack. He has the vision to pick apart any defense and has shown the ability to finish a play as well. It is only a matter of time before Valeri begins to produce this season.
Porter has uses a 4-2-3-1 formation that focuses on high pressure and ball possession.
Goalkeeper: Andrew Weber; RB: Jack Jewsbury; CB: Mamado "Futty" Danso, Pa Moduo Kah; LB: Michael Harrington; CM: Will Johnson, Diego Chara; AM: Diego Valeri; LW: Steve Zakuani; RW: Darlington Nagbe; FW: Gaston Fernandez
Keys to three points
The Timbers are still in search of their identity this season. At times they have looked similar to their breakout self of 2013, but at other times they have appeared to be a team that was lost in the various spots on the field.
The Timbers play a style that does cause fits for a team like FC Dallas. Porter instructs his team to maintain ball possession for long periods of the match. Add that in with the fact that his team brings a lot of pressure, and passing out of the back will have to be done with precision on Saturday for guys like Matt Hedges and Stephen Keel.
FC Dallas can win this game with three simple things: by spreading out the Timbers with strong wing play, putting pressure on the Timbers defense, and taking advantage of their set piece chances.
Both Je-Vaughn Watson and Fabian Castillo need to be active in this one in order to stretch this Portland team out. The Timbers haven’t shown well against teams that spread them out or against teams that play with speed on the wings.
Blas Perez and Mauro Diaz will need to put pressure on the Portland defense, last weekend against Colorado, both of the Rapids’ goals came due to pressure on the Timbers back four.
Oscar Pareja may not want to be a team known for their set piece ability but this will certainly be an area worth exploiting on Saturday as Portland has only given up goals on set pieces this season.