The Portland Timbers travel this Saturday to Frisco, TX, preparing to square off against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park (5:30 PM, ROOT SPORTS). It’s only the second league match for both teams, but a look at the rosters shows threadbare lineups with injuries and international absences making the squads look like battle worn sides at midseason.
The Timbers will hope their green kits provide a bit of luck in the St. Patrick’s day showdown, one destined to be a Texas shootout with an explosive Portland offense looking to build on their 3-1 demolition of the Philadelphia Union on Monday. Portland returns Colombian Hanyer Mosquera following the arrival of his completed transfer paperwork, but it’s unlikely the recovering Sal Zizzo, Steve Purdy, or Franck Songo’o will be available to bolster the Timbers’ depth.
Mosquera was penciled in as the starter alongside Eric Brunner in defense, but the play of Andrew Jean-Baptiste in the opener will test manager John Spencer’s philosophy of sticking with a winning formation. Jean-Baptiste showed both the pitfalls and potential expected of a rookie, recovering well to score the equalizer after redirecting the opening goal past Troy Perkins into his own net.
Dallas, after running roughshod on the New York Red Bulls in a 2-1 win last weekend, will try to counter the visitors’ tenacity with defensive organization, a tactical adjustment they’ll be required to make with the likely absences of Brek Shea, Ricardo Villar, David Ferreira, and potentially Fabian Castillo. Despite their victory, much of the credit to their first goal falls to New York, whose inept defending failed to clear before the ball fell to the unforgiving Zach Loyd for the opener.
Timbers supporters will recall Loyd’s name from Portland’s last trip to Dallas, a 4-nil drubbing handed out in the midsummer heat, with the right back responsible for the opener in that contest as well. In the first match between the clubs, Portland outlasted FCD in a goalfest at Jeld Wen Field that saw Shea and Ferreira spark a near comeback late on, only for Portland to hold on for the 3-2 victory. That match saw Captain Jack Jewsbury, Rodney Wallace, and former FCD striker Kenny Cooper tally, only to be blanked in the return fixture.
Cooper regained his scoring touch against his former club with his new one, doing well to run onto Thierry Henry’s inch perfect lob over the Dallas defense before chipping goalkeeper Kevin Hartman to spark some life late in the match. The finish was superb, but the run inside the box was an uncommon one from the former Timbers forward that shied away from the goalmouth in Portland.
A target in the box is no longer a concern for Portland, with star Kris Boyd quickly putting his stamp on the game with two goals in two matches for the club, albeit one in pre-season. Both were deftly executed headers off of pinpoint crosses, and Dallas fans will shudder to think what damage the Scot can do given time and space with the ball at his feet.
Jorge Perlaza will join Boyd up top, his endless engine powering the runs needed to carve out space for himself and teammates. If Jewsbury or Diego Chara can put half the ball Henry did behind the Dallas defense, Perlaza and Boyd will have a heyday against a backline that failed to catch up to the lumbering Cooper. If Portland can gain the advantage, expect James Marcelin to come on to spell Boyd late on to offer defensive cover. Should the Timbers require a goal, however, Bright Dike may be called upon to provide a more direct route to goal.
Portland will also pose a much more dangerous threat from the wings than New York, with Kalif Alhassan coming off an MLS Player of the Week performance after notching an assist on Boyd’s header and putting the game on ice with his teasing chip for the third and final goal.
A player who contributed to Portland’s demise in last year’s match in Frisco now suits up for the Timbers, Eric Alexander setting up Shea for a goal after his effort beat Perkins but not the post. Alexander is challenged by Darlington Nagbe for the starting role, but either is capable of solid delivery into the eighteen.
The worries are real for a discombobulated Dallas side, one that may more resemble the tumultuous Union than the more composed offense on display during First Kick against the Red Bulls. That FCD lineup dictated the tempo to their opponents, and even the loss of Castillo to a knee injury in the first half didn’t slow their attacking prowess as they threatened to increase their advantage.
The problems posed by so many key components missing for the home side will require FCD striker Blas Perez to continue his good form, the Panamanian unlucky not to get on the scoresheet in his debut, but still showing his quality as he provided assists for both goals. Perez receives some help by way of new signing Luis Perea, the little known Colombian making up for his lack of notoriety with a knack for goal, having scored at a rate of a goal every other game while playing in Peru and Chile.
In the back, George John will need to return to marshal the back four and hope that they are more alert to the danger that nearly saw them give up a two goal advantage at home. If Dallas can’t find their footing early, Portland could gain confidence and overturn the woeful road form that doomed their post-season hopes last season.
Entering the second match of their second season in the league, the Timbers already look a much improved club, one capable of recovering from setback and responding with positivity. If they can convert the momentum of a comeback win at home into triumph in Texas, the seemingly struggling powers that be in the West will be looking up the table to find the Rose City boys staring down at them sooner than later.