On Saturday night in Frisco, the Portland Timbers will face their toughest test yet in 2017: A match against FC Dallas, the defending Supporters' Shield champions and the league's only unbeaten club, without Diego Valeri (5:00 PM, TV on ROOT Sports).
Valeri will miss his first game of the season with a hip injury suffered in last weekend's 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, while goalkeeper first-choice Jake Gleeson also remains temporarily sidelined. Even for a Timbers team that has won two of its first three road games, this game appears to be an awfully tall order.
Dallas got much the better of this matchup last year, beating the Timbers three times: 3-1 in Portland in April, 2-1 in Frisco in May, and then 3-1 again in Texas in September. Dallas scored the first three goals in two of those games — taking their 3-0 lead at Providence Park inside a half hour of the first meeting.
The Timbers have always had problems playing in Frisco, though as Caleb Porter noted this week, those games have often been in oppressive heat in the middle of the summer. On kickoff on Saturday, it should be just 70 degrees.
The last time Portland got a result at Dallas, in fact, was on a freezing cold day: November 29th, 2015, when goals from Fanendo Adi and Lucas Melano got the Timbers a dramatic 2-2 draw and sent them to MLS Cup.
Oscar Pareja and Caleb Porter are two of the five coaches currently working in the league to have won MLS Coach of the Year. The pair famously clashed at the end of a game two years ago, but there doesn't seem to be any lingering bad blood.
With Valeri and Gleeson both out — though, thankfully, short-term — the Timbers' much-discussed depth will be tested again.
Jeff Attinella had an excellent Timbers debut last weekend agains Vancouver, and it's safe to say that the team feels more than comfortable with him in goal.
Either Sebastian Blanco or Darlington Nagbe looks set to assume Valeri's central playmaking spot, with Dairon Asprilla keeping his spot out wide. Blanco, especially because Nagbe has been so good recently on the left, seems more likely. Fanendo Adi, no longer suspended, will start up top with Darren Mattocks moving to the bench.
The back four that started last weekend against Vancouver should all be fit to play in this game, with Porter opting to continue with Vytas at left back. Marco Farfan, whose speed and defensive abilities might have made him a candidate to start this game, played for T2 on Friday night instead.
Dallas, despite losing in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League to Pachuca, has enjoyed an excellent start to the season. The team has conceded just three goals in its first six games, and is coming off of a win over Sporting Kansas City last weekend. Dallas lost at home just one time last season.
1 - Attinella
5 - Vytas
24 - Ridgewell (C)
13 - Olum
2 - Powell
20 - Guzman
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
10 - Blanco
27 - Asprilla
9 - Adi
Dallas is the league's best team, and down their best player, on the road, the Timbers aren't going to beat them. 2-1 Dallas.