What We Can Learn from 2018 Regular Season Meetings Between Portland, Dallas

FRISCO - Of the four Knockout Round matches coming your way this week, FC Dallas and Portland could be one of the most break-neck matchups on the docket.

Neither team likes to hold possession of the ball and both thrive in transition, meaning that even though the teams combined for two goals in two games this season, Wednesday night could be an end-to-end affair with chances galore. If one team falls behind, both possess the attacking depth to get back into a game at even the slightest chance. 

It’s tough to draw clear-cut conclusions from the two meetings already over the course of a 34-game schedule, but an overall picture has started to take shape recently. 

Let's take a look back before we look ahead. 

MARCH 24: 1-1 Draw in Frisco

In March, the sides met in each’s third match of the season. Dallas was finding its footing after a Concacaf Champions League exit just weeks prior and a slow start to the regular season. Portland was simply finding its way under a new head coach.

The teams today don’t even look the same on the field.

Three starters from that match - Mauro Diaz, Anton Nedyalkov and Fanendo Adi - left their respective team this summer. Five other starting field players are no longer in each side’s top rotation. Jimmy Maurer and Jake Gleeson were in goal for the first meeting, but neither are starters for their teams heading into the postseason.

Roland Lamah scored the lone goal for Dallas in the draw, while Sebastian Blanco took a feed from Adi and found space inside the area to curl a shot in.

SEPT. 29: 0-0 Draw in Portland

The two sides met just a month ago in the Pacific Northwest in what is the closest comparison to what we might see on Wednesday. But even still, both teams are different today.

On the road, Dallas went out with a plan to hold possession and kill off the game while finding its moment to strike on the counter the other way. It was the third-highest possession rate Dallas has had on the road this season. At home, it’s a similar game plan, but playing a little more direct in attack the other way.

The team was also in its second straight match playing Cristian Colman as the hold-up forward responsible for winning headers and creating space for a trio of attackers surrounding him. Just four days later, the Paraguayan tore his ACL in training.

Portland, on the other hand, was at the tail end of an identity crisis. Gio Savarese found himself looking for answers in the midst of a 10-points-in-10-games stretch and opted for a 4-4-2 diamond midfield much different than the 4-2-3-1 that the Timbers will likely field on Wednesday.

As Dallas focused its attack down the left and the overlap between Marquinhos Pedroso and Santiago Mosquera, Zarek Valentin essentially won back a starting role cleaning things up after subbing on at right back in the 62nd minute. The move not only thwarted Dallas’ advance, it - coupled with the addition of Lucas Melano - propelled the home side the other way.

Similarly, as Portland started gaining the offensive momentum late, Dallas’ adjustments defensively helped close out the match and earn Dallas its playoff-clinching point. Maynor Figueroa came on as a fifth defender and Ryan Hollingshead as a defensive-minded winger - the same plan that earned Dallas a win on the road in Vancouver a week prior.

Closing out games has largely been a weakness for FCD since.

WHAT TO EXPECT

In the last month, FCD has dropped three straight with just three goals to its name in the four tries since. Despite just a single goal for in the losing streak, the team has created more chances offensively than in any three-game span since June. In fact, FCD leads the league with six players who have created 30 or more chances over the course of 2018. They'll need to continue creating and find the final ball to advance at home. 

Defensively, Dallas has to tighten things up after allowing goals in the final quarter hour in each of the last three. The pieces for FCD haven’t changed much, but the consistency in result has.

On the other side, Portland has found the opposite to be true. The Timbers have found their identity again in a 4-2-3-1 shape and, based on Oct. 21’s 3-0 stomping of RSL, their first-choice XI. Two of their goals in that one came in transition, with another from a free kick into the area. Both are areas that have cause FCD concern in recent weeks.

Expect both sides to continue to exploit the left side of their respective attacks, Portland through Sebastian Blanco at Reggie Cannon and Dallas through Santiago Mosquera or Roland Lamah at Zarek Valentin.

In the end, Wednesday’s battle for the home team will come down to mental fortitude and capitalizing on opportunity - staying defensively alert for 90+ minutes and finding the netting with the numerous chances Dallas has created of late.

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