Know Your Enemy: Portland Timbers FC

After a week off in league play, FC Dallas returns to action this weekend as they travel to the west coast to face the Western Conference rival Portland Timbers(4PM CT, ESPN).

The Timbers are still unbeaten since Week 2, going 12 games without a loss in league play.

Portland is 2-0-2 since the last meeting with FC Dallas, a 1-1 draw back on May 8 in Frisco.

Caleb Porter’s squad is coming off a 2-2 draw last weekend in Chicago. The Timbers went up early with goals from Diego Valeri and Ben Zemanski, only to see the Fire battle back late with two goals of their own.

Like Dallas, Portland was also involved in the midweek US Open Cup Fourth Round as they beat the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0 at JELD-WEN Field.

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Injury Watch

The injury list for the Timbers remains fairly similar to what it was the last time that these two met. Four players are out entirely for this weekend’s game. Bright Dike, Brent Richards and Mikael Silvestre all are dealing with ACL injuries while defender David Horst is recovering from tibia plateau surgery.

International duty

No other club in Major League Soccer got hit harder by the international call-ups than the Timbers did. Four key players for Porter’s squad were called up: Mamadou “Futty” Danso, Rodney Wallace, Ryan Johnson and Donovan Ricketts.

Johnson and Ricketts could be back in time for Saturday’s game as their time with Jamaica wrapped up on Tuesday in Honduras.   

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Key Matchups

Kenny Cooper vs Andrew Jean-Baptiste – A veteran player going up against a second year defender always sounds intriguing. Cooper scored two goals in the midweek US Open Cup win over Houston and looks to be back on form for Dallas. Jean-Baptiste has been the starter in the back ever since Mikael Silvestre injured his ACL earlier this season. He’s been a solid starter for them but has had some issues with positioning and marking at times. 

Michel vs Will Johnson – The other battle to keep an eye on will certainly be this one in the middle of the park. How Johnson handles Michel will go a long way in determining if Dallas is able to play their long ball game. Michel is great at switching the point of attack while Johnson has been a guy that the Timbers have leaned on big time this season.

Key Player for Portland

Ryan Johnson – The Jamaican will be back with the Timbers after being gone on international duty for the last couple of weeks. Johnson is a major player in the Timbers attack as he already has four goals and four assists on the season. His pace has given other teams trouble so far this season. Matt Hedges and George John will have their hands full with this crafty forward.

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Projected Lineup

Porter lately has been employing a 4-3-3 formation this season though you could argue that at times it resembles more of a 4-2-1-3. With the international absences the lineup will have a slightly different look to it with Valeri pushed up the field a little more.

Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts; RB: Michael Harrington; CB: Pah Modou Kah, Andrew Jean-Baptiste; LB: Jack Jewsbury; RM: Diego Chara; CM: Ben Zemanski; LM: Will Johnson; RW: Diego Valeri; LW: Darlington Nagbe; FW: Frederic Piquionne

Keys to three points

The short rest for both squads will play a factor on Saturday, but one could argue that Portland will be better off in this one given how many starters were able to rest on Wednesday night compared to FC Dallas. But either way you look at it, this is a big game for both clubs.

Portland has the unbeaten run that is very impressive to look at. They do a lot of things right on the ball offensively by pressuring the middle of the park with speed. Valeri and Chara also had a lot of skill to the attack and when Darlington Nagbe finds the ball, things seem to happen as well.

FC Dallas will want to limit the touches up front for the Timbers and spread them out. Porter’s formation does leave them vulnerable on the wings at times and last weekend in Chicago, the outside backs were leaving their marks a bit too much. If Dallas can use their speed on the wings with Jackson and Fabian Castillo to pressure those outside back, good things will happen.

A lot will also fall on the defense for Dallas. The short rest could make for an interesting final half hour in the match, as Dallas tends to give up more goals late. Mental lapses late won’t do Schellas Hyndman’s team one bit.

Lastly, getting set pieces have been huge for Dallas as of late. Michel has been deadly from the corner and Portland does struggle with teams that have a good amount of size like Dallas does.

This game won’t be easy with the short turnaround but both teams are dealing with it. As long as Dallas plays a complete game, they’ll return to Frisco with more points.