The Portland Timbers and FC Dallas will kick off the 2015 Major League Soccer (MLS) Western Conference Finals on Sunday at Providence Park.
For the third seed Timbers facing the Hoops at home is exactly what the doctor ordered. Since Portland entered the league in 2011, Dallas has yet to defeat the Timbers in the state of Oregon in six attempts. The Toros best result in Portland has been two draws. Their current record in the Rose City is (W-D-L) 0-2-4. Including this MLS season Dallas lost at Providence Park 3-1 on April 4th, after that match the famous tissue incident happen between Portland’s manager Caleb Porter and Dallas’ Oscar Pareja.
The road has not been to kind to Dallas this year, in the regular season they went 5-4-8. Not to mention they lost to the Seattle Sounders FC 2-1 at CenturyLink Field in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals.
However, this current Dallas squad has not paid attention to history. They knocked out the Sounders in a dramatic second leg at Toyota Park. Seattle was the favorite to advance, but the Toros just ignored the Rave Green hype and put themselves into the Conference Finals for their fourth time in franchise history.
Pareja will need his playmakers Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo to break through the stingy Timbers defense of Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafaña and goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. Portland has only given up two goals in the entire MLS playoffs. Those two goals came in the first series against Sporting Kansas City, so Diaz and Castillo and plus Michael Barrios will have their work cut out for them.
Regardless if the three of them break down the defense then the strikers will need to do their part. David Texeira, Blas Perez and Tesho Akindele will need to finish their chances on Sunday. If Dallas fails to score, the Timbers Army will grow louder and give their home squad all the confidence to look for a game winner or just to increase the lead.
The Hoops best chance of leaving Providence Park with a victory is by scoring early, doubling the lead and controlling the midfield.
The Timbers like Dallas is another club who appear to be on a mission. Portland knocked out Sporting in the Knockout Round in the longest penalty kicks in MLS postseason history. Then they eliminated their rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, in the Semifinals. Now they are just two games away from their first trip to the MLS Cup Finals.
However, Portland will be without Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace due to yellow card accumulations. They will be back in action for the second leg against Dallas on November 29th.
However, until then Porter will have to think of a victory plan without them. The Timbers cannot afford to go Toyota Park for the second leg without a victory. If they fail to win at home their chances of advance to the MLS Cup will be in jeopardy.
Yes, the Timbers finished with a solid road record of 7-2-8, but Dallas has a 13-2-2 home record. Clubs have struggled to score in Frisco, TX. In the 17 home games Dallas played in the regular season, they outscored their opponents 33 to 15. They also secured seven shutouts in the process.
With Valeri not available for the Timbers that means Darlington Nagbe will need to carry the load on Sunday. However, the good news for Nagbe is that Captain Will Johnson is back for Portland.
He played in both World Cup Qualification matches for Canada the past week. With the return of Johnson, Nagbe will be able to go up and create problems for the Toros, but if he loses the ball Johnson and Diego Chara will be there to get it back quickly.
The Timbers forward Fanendo Adi will need to continue his form and add on to his 17 goals this season. Porter will need his South American X-factors: Argentinean forward Maximiliano Urruti and Colombian attacking midfielder Dairon Asprilla to push the Hoops defenders: Matt Hedges, Zach Lloyd, Je-Vaughn Watson and Ryan Hollingshead to a breaking point. However, then the Timbers will need to get past Dallas’ youngster goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.
Where the Timbers need to win, is the battle in the midfield. Controlling the possession will not allow Dallas to gain momentum. Plus it will force the Toros to waste energy in chasing after the ball instead of creating chances. In return, Portland can create multiple opportunities of scoring and keep the Hoops defense guessing and out of breath.
Prediction: Portland 2-1 Dallas
The Timbers will win the match, but they will concede an away goal which might hurt them in the second leg.