A full two weeks after being humiliated by the New York Red Bulls’ second team in a 4-0 loss, the Portland Timbers will retake the field this weekend in Frisco, TX against FC Dallas (12:30 pm, TV on UniMás and Twitter).
Timbers boss Giovani Savarese has had plenty of time to evaluate what went wrong against the Red Bulls, and plenty of time to decide how he’ll handle a number of difficult lineup and tactical questions on Saturday. It might still be March, but the new coach needs a response.
After melting down in near-historic fashion and missing the playoffs last year, FC Dallas made an ignominious start to this season: losing in the Concacaf Champions League round of 16 to lowly Panamanian side Tauro FC on away goals. Tauro were then routed 7-1 by Club America in the quarterfinals.
Things didn’t start all much better in MLS play, as Oscar Pareja’s side needed a late own goal to salvage a home draw with Real Salt Lake in Week 1. Dallas did get on the board with a win last weekend against Seattle, but that was thanks in large part to an early, vintage-quality Clint Dempsey straight red card.
All told, however, this is still a wounded animal. One of the best teams in the league in 2015 and 2016, Dallas has won just three of their last seventeen league games dating back to last July. The jury is still very much out on whether this team has cured all that ailed it during the second half of 2017.
The most optimistic sign for Dallas is that their best player, playmaker Mauro Diaz, finally looks healthy. He was the best player on the field last weekend against the Sounders, and when he plays like that, Dallas is very difficult to stop at home.
Dallas isn’t a possession team, but they’ll try to play through Diaz as much as they can and get out and run on the counter.
Savarese, meanwhile, has a number of decisions to make. One centers around how high he wants to deploy his backline, which has been gashed in both games so far, the other is whether the Timbers can effectively and consistently high press with an older group of players.
Considering how Dallas likes to play, and considering that the Timbers don’t want to be stuck on zero points forever, I think we’ll see Savarese moderate his system and play slightly more conservatively. Portland can possess the ball in this game, but they’ll need to be careful in central areas not to turn it over.
Lastly: the Timbers’ effort must be better than it was against the Red Bulls. If the players Savarese picks don’t get after it, after what happened last time out, that’s a bigger problem than anything tactical.
90 – Gleeson
32 – Farfan
24 – Ridgewell (C)
33 – Mabiala
16 – Valentin
22 – Paredes
21 – Chara
10 – Blanco
8 – Valeri
27 – Asprilla
9 – Adi
— David Guzman and Andy Polo are away with their national teams and unavailable. Cristhian Paredes, who started the opener in LA, is the favorite to replace Guzman.
— Samuel Armenteros was ineffective in what amounted to just a 58-minute start in Harrison, so Fanendo Adi should reclaim his place up top.
— There’s been no clarity on the status of Alvas Powell, who picked up an injury the week of the Red Bulls game, and there’s no reason to take Zarek Valentin out of the lineup regardless. Marco Farfan has struggled at the other fullback position, but he should get a third straight start with Vytas still out.
— It’ll be awfully interesting to see if Liam Ridgewell plays and whether he wears the armband after giving up on this play against New York. Larrys Mabiala hasn’t played any better than Ridgewell has, but at least he hasn’t done that.
Portland has historically struggled in Frisco — as have most teams — but they did get a draw on their spring visit last year, and might have won the game if not for this wonderful strike from Maxi Urruti.
Dallas is in better shape than the Timbers are right now, and they’ll win 3-1.