Neither the Portland Timbers nor FC Dallas are particularly hot heading into the MLS Playoffs. FC Dallas dropped each of its last three matches to tumble from first place in the Western Conference down to fourth. The Timbers, meanwhile, won only two of their final five and ended up down in fifth.
These two lukewarm teams will meet up at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas in the second of two Wednesday night matches to open the playoffs.
Neither side are strangers to playoff success, or failures, for that matter. They last squared off in postseason play in the 2015 Western Conference Final, which the Timbers won, 5-3, over two legs on their way to winning MLS Cup. FC Dallas has never been that far, but despite missing the playoffs last year, has been to the postseason three of the last four seasons.
The Timbers are making their fourth ever appearance in the playoffs and they are getting there for the second consecutive year. Last season, after taking the top seed in the Western Conference, they fell to the Houston Dynamo in the West semifinals in a rather disappointing showing. They hope to make their playoff run last a little longer this time around, and it starts with this match against FC Dallas.
Here’s a closer look at this single elimination match on Wednesday night:
These two sides faced off twice during the regular season and both games ended in a draw. Both games saw the Timbers down to ten men, although the red card in the second match, a 0-0 draw at Providence Park, came deep into second half stoppage time. The first match was back in March and saw Sebastian Blanco’s second half goal cancel a first half tally from Roland Lamah in a 1-1 stalemate.
Players to Watch
fc dallas: maxi urruti
The former Portland forward has gone from part-time bench player to regular starter up front since joining FC Dallas in 2016. This season, he led the team with 33 appearances and tied for the team lead with eight goals while also accumulating 11 assists, which also topped the squad. The Timbers may have known Urruti as a sub who popped on to score timely goals, but Dallas has turned him into a well-rounded attacking piece capable of leading an attack with the best of them.
portland timbers: diego valeri
Few players are as synonymous with their MLS club as Diego Valeri is with the Timbers. The 2017 MLS MVP didn’t quite have the stellar season he did a year ago, but he still had ten goals and ten assists to lead the Timbers in both categories. He’s everything a coach could ask for in an attacking midfielder, and the Timbers will go just about as far as he can take them.
Matchup to Watch
samuel armenteros vs. matt hedges
The Timbers have lacked their usual big punch at the point of their attack since Fanendo Adi fell out of favor and was sent off the FC Cincinnati of the USL earlier in the season. Samuel Armenteros has done his best to pick up the slack, but he still isn’t quite what Adi was at his peak. Keep an eye on how well he goes to work against FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges, who has been one the league’s most consistent defenders in recent years.
fc dallas: roland lamah
Urruti may be the leader of all things attack, but Roland Lamah scored eight goals of his own in the regular season while playing nearly 900 fewer minutes that Urruti. A big game from him can really swing the tides in Dallas’s favor.
portland timbers: Sebastian blanco
Sebastian Blanco is the perfect partner for Valeri in Portland’s attacking midfield. The two countrymates are almost mirror images of each other. Both scored ten goals, Blanco had 11 assists to Valeri’s 12, and both can move around and play anywhere in the midfield at any given time. If Valeri has a rough night, Blanco can easily step in and make it seem like nothing is wrong, but if both players are on, Dallas is in big trouble.
Both of these sides have quite a bit of firepower up front, but this game will be won by whichever side can play the strongest at the back. Dallas will need a great performance from Matt Hedges and his back four while the Timbers will rely on Larrys Mabiala and a rather inconsistent Liam Ridgwell. Whichever defensive unit makes the fewest mistakes will probably come out on top. That said, both sides will look to their playmakers to get the job done.
Expect a patient attacking game from both teams as they look to use their strong attacking talent to probe the opposing defense. It’s possible that the Timbers sit back as the away side and aim to play a more counter attacking style as they look to hit with the speed they have in the midfield.
The Timbers may have a slight rest advantage since they played mostly reserves in the season ending match in Vancouver while Dallas trotted out their main lineup as they fell to the Colorado Rapids on Sunday. Perhaps that could play into a more speed-based counter attacking style.
If their two regular season games taught us anything, it’s that it’s hard to separate these two teams. It wouldn’t be a shock to see this one head into extra time or penalties in what could be the next MLS Playoff knockout round thriller.