Guest columnist Drew Epperley is the founder and editor of WVHooligan.com. His blog covers everything MLS and U.S. Soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @WVHooligan.
A lot has changed since the Portland Timbers (5-10-4, 19 points) came to Frisco back in late March.
For starters, John Spencer is no longer in charge as manager of the Timbers. He was let go a few weeks back as Gavin Wilkinson stepped in as interim manager.
The Timbers were expected to be a top contender by some experts in the Western Conference going into this season - but just like FC Dallas (4-10-7, 19 points) - they have stumbled along the way.
Portland has lost four out of their last five games including a 1-0 loss on the road at Chivas USA on Wednesday. The Timbers have the league’s worst road record, an ugly 0-7-2 away from the friendly confines of JELD-WEN Field.
Timbers in the attack
Since Wilkinson has taken over, he has shifted to a 4-5-1 formation that resembles what Schellas Hyndman uses with FC Dallas.
Portland has the third-worst offense in MLS in terms of goals scored with 19. Only Chivas USA and the Columbus Crew have less.
Scottish international Kris Boyd sits alone up top in the target striker role. Boyd currently leads the Timbers this season with seven goals. When he is active and has quality service into his feet or head, he is a very dangerous player to defend.
Sitting below Boyd in the middle of the attack will be sophomore forward Darlington Nagbe. The former University of Akron star has three goals on the season. His passing and distribution of the ball has to improve though for him to be effective in this role.
On the wings will be former FC Dallas midfielder Eric Alexander and Kalif Alhassan. Both are big parts of the attack and Alexander actually leads the Timbers with four assists this season.
Wilkinson has a couple options off the bench for his attack as well. Franck Songo’o and Sal Zizzo fit in to the midfield areas.
Danny Mwanga would be an option up top with Boyd. So far the former number one overall SuperDraft pick has seen limited time since coming over from Philadelphia. Mwanga could be that ‘x-factor’ off the bench for the Timbers on Saturday.
A couple new faces man the full back spots for the Timbers. Kosuke Kimura came over from the Colorado Rapids recently and Scottish international Steven Smith both are now starting figures in the back for the Timbers.
Centrally Wilkinson has Mamadou “Futty” Danso and Colombian Hanyer Mosquera. Both have played solid minutes lately in the center of the Portland back four.
Just above them in the midfield are two defensive-holding midfielders in Jack Jewsbury and Designated Player Diego Chara. Both players cover a ton of ground and will be asked to play a part in getting the Timbers attack back on course with their set piece service.
Troy Perkins will continue to be the man between the pipes in goal for Portland. He currently has three shutouts on the season.
Keys to three points
If FC Dallas wants to get out of the Western Conference cellar this weekend they must get back to basics with their game.
With temperatures this weekend expected to reach triple-digits, Dallas will want to spread out the attack and make Portland chase the game away with smart possession.
Portland got absolutely worked by Chivas USA on Wednesday on the wings. If Dallas can go wide and create chances from the wings and allow David Ferreira the space to create, they should see plenty of success against the Timbers.
Keeping the Timbers away from having set pieces in their offensive end will also be a key factor since the Timbers have scored four goals this season off set pieces. Boyd is a big target and will be gunning for a goal in this game.
It all comes down to smart soccer at this point and with this home stand being vital for FC Dallas’ playoff chances, they will need to come out firing from the start.