Breaking down Sunday's FC Dallas-Timbers MLS playoff game

By Ridge Mahoney

Of the two regular-season champions that are down by two goals heading into the second legs of the conference finals, FC Dallas supposedly has the slightly easier task.

Though FCD conceded a very late goal by defender Nat Borchersto end the first leg down, 3-1, it takes an away goal into the second game, and thus needs “only” a 2-0 victory to advance. That result would tie the aggregate at 3-3 and push FCD into its second MLS Cup final on the away-goals tiebreaker.

(Over in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls are also down by two goals, but their 2-0 deficit to Columbus necessitates they win the rematch by at least three goals, or on penalty kicks. Otherwise, their excellent season is done.)

Western Conference Finals, Second Leg
FC Dallas-Portland, Toyota Stadium Sunday 5 p.m. ET
(ESPN, ESPN Deportes)

Portland leads, 3-1.

The Timbers should be stronger for the second leg despite the possible absence of centerback Liam Ridgewell, who scored the opening goal in game one. He left the first game with a strained calf and during Portland’s training session Saturday head coach Caleb Porter said Norberto Paparrato, who replaced Ridgewell in the 60th minute, might get the start Sunday.

Playmaker Diego Valeri and winger Rodney Wallace return from suspension for Portland. As the other winger to go with Wallace and center forward Fanendo Adi up front, Porter will probably choose between Lucas Melano and Dairon Asprilla, who started together for the first time in the playoffs last weekend. Asprilla’s spectacular, swerving blast from outside the box turned out to be the winner in game one, but Melano been the more consistent contributor since joining the team in August.

“What I like about the group is that they're aware of what they're doing but they're not thinking about it,” said Porter. “That's what good teams do. They're aware of the magnitude of every game and yet they're absorbed in the substance of what we need to do.”In the first leg, FCD didn’t deal well with Darlington Nagbe’s confident dribbles and silky passes. Keeper Jesse Gonzalez was screened on Asprilla’s goal and then gave up a rebound that Borchers tapped into the net to provide the two-goal cushion. FCD must tighten up its defending of set plays and do a better job of protecting its 20-year-old goalkeeper.

It should be encouraged by the 4-1 victory it posted against Portland at Toyota Stadium in late July. Wide mid Michael Barrios scored two goals in that game but has yet to net in the playoffs and seldom broke clear last weekend before being replaced by Tesho Akindele. Who does head coach Oscar Pareja turn to in the second leg? FCD also needs to get the ball to Fabian Castillo more often and in better spots, yet stay solid defensively to thwart the efforts of Valeri and Nagbe to spring counterattacks. This season Mauro Diazcemented his role as FCD’s No. 10: now he needs a signature game in a crucial situation.

"I think our confidence is high,” said Akindele at FCD’s training session Friday. “We know we’re going to score goals. We have all kind of people who can score goals and we can score different types of ways. Our defense has looked really good this week in training so I think we’re going to shut them out and hopefully score at least two goals.”

Regular-Season Meetings
April 4 – Portland 3 (Borchers, Urruti, Chara), FC Dallas 1 (Akindele).
July 25 – FC Dallas 4 (Barrios 2, Acosta, Diaz), Portland 1 (Adi).

Playoff Results

Knockout Round
Oct. 29 – Portland 2 (Wallace, Urruti) Sporting KC 2 (Ellis, Nemeth).
(Portland wins 7-6 on penalty kicks).
Conference Semifinals, First Leg
Nov. 1 – Vancouver 0 Portland 0.
Nov. 1 – Seattle 2 (Ivanschitz, Dempsey) FC Dallas 1 (Castillo).
Conference Semifinals, Second Leg
Nov. 8 –
Portland 2 (Adi, Chara) Vancouver 0.
(Portland wins, 2-0.)
Nov. 8 – FC Dallas 2 (Akindele, Zimmerman) Seattle 1 (Marshall).
(Aggregate 3-3; FC Dallas wins 4-2 on penalty kicks)
Conference Final
Nov. 22 – Portland 3 (Ridgewell, Asprilla, Borchers) FC Dallas 1 (Texeira).

Stat Leaders

FC Dallas – Fabian Castillo 10 goals, Mauro Diaz 12 assists, Jesse Gonzalez 51 saves.
Portland – Fanendo Adi 17 goals, Diego Valeri 10 assists, Adam Kwarasey 87 saves.

FCD's only appearance in the MLS Cup final in 2010 took place a few months before Portland played its first MLS game as a 2011 expansion team.

Bottom Line
Both teams are battle-tested by advancing on penalty kicks in this year’s playoffs but FCD’s firepower should determine the outcome before the final whistle.

FC Dallas 4, Portland 1.
(FC Dallas wins 5-4 on aggregate.)

3 comments about "Breaking down Sunday's FC Dallas-Timbers MLS playoff game".
  1. Mark Konty, November 28, 2015 at 9:34 p.m.

    "necessitates they win the rematch by at least three goals, or on penalty kicks." Not so! They can win in extra time when the away goals rule does not apply.

  2. beautiful game, November 29, 2015 at 11:35 a.m.

    For FC Dallas to win 4-1 in regulation needs a miracle team performance and Portland to suffer a total breakdown.

  3. Chris Allen, November 29, 2015 at 9:10 p.m.

    You sold out PTFC on both games, this particular one being the most outlandish. Now you can be blinded by your foolish predictions and the shiny new trophy they just won. With a bit more of what crushed dallas there will be another one to keep it company in about a week.

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