Timbers @ FC Dallas Match Preview: Here we go again in the heart of Texas
Sigh... Yeah, I guess we'll try to mess with Texas.
There are many constants in life. Tax season. Spring starting in spurts and starts in the Pacific Northwest. Sports bloggers inevitably moving to newsletter services (heh).
And of course, the Portland Timbers traveling to Texas early in the season.
The Timbers (1-3-1) head to Frisco to face FC Dallas (2-2-1) in their annual early season trip to face the Burn (Saturday April 1 @ 5:30 p.m. PT, streaming on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV [Free]).
These visits have not been kind to the Timbers in recent years, so here’s what to expect in the 2023 edition.
A look at the opposition
FC Dallas is continuing to build off of a strong debut season for head coach Nico Estevez. The former USMNT assistant coach has revitalized Dallas into a proactive pass-heavy outfit, and it shows in their stats so far in 2023.
According to FBref, Dallas has attempted and completed the third-most passes in the entire league through five games, and they prioritize positional play in attempting to disorganize their opponents using the ball.
They’re a little more “trust your gut” than “pass by number” this season, but their ethos is roughly the same to last year.
What that ethos works, my goodness does it sing:
That goal came at the end of a 15-pass sequence where Dallas played out of pressure, split SKC’s defensive line, and then attacked at space before scoring a banger. In a phrase, it’s close to the platonic ideal of an Estevez-era FC Dallas goal.
That whole sequence works primarily because Dallas’ engine room works. Their midfield trio of Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerillo, and Sebastian Lletget (who appears to be back with the team after engaging in some ahem “extracurricular activities” off the field) allows them to pass their way out of most problems they face.
Their one potential achilles’ heel? They’re not always consistently goal dangerous. Dallas’ passes into the final third are middling among the league, and while star forward Jesus Ferreira can score goals in bunches (as the Timbers discovered last year), his tendency to drop into the midfield to link up play can potentially limit Dallas’ backline pressure.
But even if the attack sputters, they have a stalwart ‘keeper to keep them in games. Dallas’ goalkeeper Maarten Paes is once again putting up some of the best goalkeeping numbers in the league. He’s been the main reason that Dallas is sitting mid-table at the moment and not further down, as evidenced by him saving two penalty kick attempts in the Burn’s last home game.
Dallas plays attractive soccer, has dangerous and effective players, and just does not lose at home (they’ve lost just once in Frisco since last July). Even before factoring in the Timbers Texas curse, they are about as tough of an away day as they come.
Timbers team news & outlook
The biggest team news for the Timbers is that Aljaz Ivacic will be starting in goal for the Timbers. This comes after some, let’s call it drama, bubbled up to the surface prior to last weekend’s scoreless draw with the LA Galaxy.
It looked like the Timbers were headed to some sort of standoff with one of their best players — but then David Bingham joined the “injured hamstring” club. Savarese confirmed in his prematch press conference that Ivacic will start in goal on Saturday.
He steps into a situation that is, uh, not the greatest. We all know about Portland’s record in Texas (just three wins in the Lone Star State in their entire MLS' existence), and their away record at FC Dallas (no wins in Frisco since the 2018 playoffs). When you add on top of that the fact that the Timbers are still battling injuries, it will be a tough spot for any player to step into, let alone the man between the stick.
The key for Portland to get any kind of positive result this weekend is to maintain their organization for a full 90 minutes. Yes, yes, injuries and all that, but time and time again the Timbers have been burned this year through lapses in concentration or slow reactions. Dallas feasts on those types of errors, and so turnovers will need to be kept to a minimum — or at the very least tracked down immediately after they occur.
Beyond that, this Dallas team is beatable. They’ve lost twice (both on the road), and in both losses their expected goals value was below 1.0. If Portland can keep Dallas’ bevy of quick attackers in front of them and limit the likes of Ferreira to low-percentage shots, they have a shot to stay in this one.
As for who could be scoring goals for the Timbers, your guess is as good as mine. Portland has yet to find any semblance of a consistent offense, and they still have so many of their attacking pieces out due to injury.
The one man we could see who could make a difference on that front is Franck Boli. The newly signed Ivorian striker has been training with the team, and could make his Timbers debut this weekend.
Projected Starting XIs
Portland (4-2-3-1): Ivacic; Bonilla, McGraw, Zuparic, Bravo; D. Chara, Williamson; Asprilla, Moreno, Gutierrez; Nathan
Dallas (4-3-3): Paes; Jesus, Tafari, Martinez, Farfan; Pomykal, Cerillo, Lletget; Arriola, Ferreira, Velasco
Predicting anything other than a Timbers loss in a spring game in Texas is the most foolish of fool’s errands. Portland hasn’t won a regular season game at FC Dallas since 2014, and only won in the 2018 MLS Cup playoffs due to some Diego Valeri magic.
So I’m going to predict a “huh that was closer than I thought” 2-1 Timbers loss, with Ferreira tallying a brace and Asprilla scoring for Portland in his 2023 debut.