Last weekend, the Portland Timbers got their title defense back on track with an absolutely necessary 4-2 thumping of the Seattle Sounders. On Saturday in Frisco, the Timbers will try to build on that victory as they face the Western Conference's pace-setter FC Dallas (6:00 PM, TV on KPDX).
Caleb Porter will be without three players who are on international duty, but this game — against a Dallas team with problems of its own — stands as a perfect opportunity for the Timbers to begin in earnest another of their patented late-season charges.
The Timbers and Dallas — the two sides that contested last season's Western Conference Championship, won 5-3 on aggregate by Portland — have already met twice this season.
The teams' first meeting was on a dreary April Wednesday night at Providence Park, in which Dallas went up 3-0 inside a half hour and closed the game out at 3-1 — a Timbers performance which Caleb Porter promised afterwards would "never happen again."
There was another Wednesday night meeting in mid-May, when Diego Valeri opened the scoring after just four minutes in Frisco, only for Dallas to come back in the second half behind goals from defenders Ryan Hollingshead and Walker Zimmerman.
The Timbers' last win in Frisco came on the final day of the 2014 season, when Portland beat a playoff-bound Dallas side 2-0. Two men who started that game for Portland, Maxi Urruti and Norberto Paparatto, now play for Oscar Pareja's side. Urruti has seven goals this season, while Paparatto is yet to make an appearance for his new club.
The Timbers will be with Darlington Nagbe, Alvas Powell, and Jermaine Taylor, with all three players involved in their country's upcoming CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. Zarek Valentin is the natural replacement for Powell at right back, while Porter could go in several different options to fill the void left by Nagbe.
The like-for-like option is Ned Grabavoy playing as an inverted winger, as we saw several times in the month of June. Grabavoy has been quite good this year in the games he's started centrally, and the Timbers signed him for occasions like these.
Jack Barmby is another option, albeit, a slightly unlikely one. The Brit has started just one game all year, and while he'd provide directness and width, his play off the bench hasn't warranted more minutes. Darren Mattocks — who hasn't appeared since getting injured less than a minute into the Timbers' July 4th game at the New York Red Bulls — should see time off the bench.
One man to watch in the Dallas heat will be Steven Taylor. The longtime Newcastle man had a feel-good home debut last Sunday as he scored against Seattle, but he's looked shaky defensively in both of his starts — and this will be his first taste of the league outside of Cascadia. Taylor's center back partner and compatriot Liam Ridgewell, Portland's captain, just signed a new two-year contract this week.
Dallas has had a turbulent month, losing winger Fabian Castillo to Trabzonspor in Turkey in a long transfer saga. Hollingshead has done decent work in his place, but this team looks a lot less threatening with Castillo gone. Mauro Diaz remains the danger man, while Urruti may like his chances up against the Timbers' center backs.
90 - Gleeson
16 - Valentin
24 - Ridgewell (C)
27 - S. Taylor
5 - Vytas
21 - Chara
13 - Jewsbury
10 - Grabavoy
8 - Valeri
26 - Melano
9 - Adi
Dallas is working on the longest home unbeaten run in MLS, and considering the Timbers' road form this year — or maybe more importantly, their record after wins — that streak isn't likely to end on Saturday. 2-1 Dallas.