The Major League Soccer (MLS) Western Conference Final is entering its final leg on Sunday when the Portland Timbers head to Toyota Stadium with a 3-1 aggregate advantage over FC Dallas.
Portland walked away with a 3-1 victory over Dallas after the first leg of the Conference Final at their home of Providence Park. Now the series heads to the state of Texas for the decisive second leg, and potentially only 90 minutes separate these two clubs from a trip to the MLS Cup Final.
However, the Timbers are in the driver's seat with the two goal aggregate lead. A loss by one goal, a margin of 4-2, 5-3, etc., a draw or a victory will secure Portland's first trip to an MLS Cup Final in franchise history. Timbers manager Caleb Porter will need striker Lucas Melano to finish his chances when the opportunities arrive. In the first leg the Argentinean forward had three shots but he failed to convert any of them.
Yes some of those shots were made complicated by the stingy Dallas defense, and also by goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, who made six saves. In Frisco, TX Melano and Fanendo Adi have to pounce on the shots created by the midfield. The creativity of Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara and Dairon Asprilla broke down the Toros multiple times last Sunday.
The Timbers will be heading to Toyota Stadium and they are going to need all the help they can get if they want a result. The Hoops defense at home is tough and confident as they have earned seven shutouts in 17 MLS regular season home games. Porter can sleep better knowing that Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace are back from their suspensions and will need to be key assets for the Timbers to win the series.
However, achieving a victory or just leaving Toyota Stadium with a tie is not an easy task. Dallas has only lost twice in 18 total home games played (including the one playoff game this year), and their record is (W-D-L) 14-2-2. The Toros have beaten down their opponents by scoring 35 goals and only conceding 16 in the process.
Portland can put all of those stats to the side because even if they lose on Sunday, all they have to do is make sure that they do not allow the Toros to score multiple goals. If the Timbers lose 2-1 they will still advance with a 4-3 aggregate. However, if Dallas wins 2-0, then the Toros will go to their second MLS Cup. Even though a 2-0 score line for the Hoops makes the aggregate 3-3, Dallas would win the series because of their away goal.
Dallas has their backs against the wall, knowing that only a victory will let them advance. The Toros will unveil every item in their arsenal, and Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo will be leading the charge. In the first match they were both silenced by the Timbers defense and midfield. However, if Dallas wants to have any chances of advancing they will need them to get going and give David Texeira multiple chances of scoring.
Portland will need keeper Adam Kwarasey to perform and keep Dallas off the score board. MLS veteran Nat Borchers will need to shoulder the weight if captain Liam Ridgewell is not able to suit up on Sunday. He was forced to leave the first game early because of a leg injury. If he is not able to play in the second leg Norberto Paparatto will need to step in and help Borchers hold down the defense against the Dallas barrage.
Prediction: Dallas 2-1 Portland, 4-3 Portland wins
The return and fresh legs of Valeri and Wallace will help the Timbers create enough counters at Toyota Stadium. Their combined presence will make Nagbe and Portland’s job as a whole easier, and will help them nick an important away goal.