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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
After an alarmingly slow start to the season, the Portland Timbers hit crisis point last week in San Jose — losing 3-0 to a previously-winless Earthquakes team that entered the game with the worst goal difference in the league.

It was an alarming performance, and it leaves the Timbers, who will only hit the halfway point of their season-opening road trip after this Saturday's game against FC Dallas, in desperate need of a response (5 p.m., TV on KPDX).

The Opponent

After a disappointing end to last season in the Wild Card round of the playoffs — where they were knocked out at home by the Timbers — Dallas turned over a new page in the offseason. Longtime manager Oscar Pareja left for Tijuana, while a number of veteran players, including Maxi Urruti, departed for new clubs.

Former academy director Luchi Gonzalez was promoted to take Pareja's place, and, true to his background, he has put his faith in young players: 19-year-old Paxton Pomykal is the playmaker, while 17-year-old Thomas Roberts and 18-year-old Edwin Cerillo were both in the starting lineup last weekend.

Some familiar faces remain — notably along the backline, where Reto Ziegler and Matt Hedges make up one of the league's better center back partnerships — but the team feels refreshed after fading somewhat over the last several years.

Dallas currently sits fifth in the Western Conference, having taken full points from their first three games against Western Conference opponents. After coughing up a late lead in Philadelphia last weekend, they'll be ready to go on Saturday.

The Tactics

After switching the Timbers into a 5-3-2 for their game at the LA Galaxy two weeks ago, Giovani Savarese returned to the 4-2-3-1 formation for the game last week in San Jose and was punished for it.

The Timbers had all kinds of problems against the Earthquakes, and plenty of them were not tactical, but the comprehensive nature of their defensive collapse in the first half makes a return to the 5-3-2 a probability for the game on Saturday nonetheless.

That means an extra center back, more cover for the fullbacks, a reduced defensive burden on the team's central midfield, and faith that the team's forward core — Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, and Jeremy Ebobisse — can get itself going without significant help.

Of course, what might be more important to the Timbers than any formation change is some urgency and some belief. The belief will come with goals and clean sheets and results. But the urgency simply has to be there. If it's not, this season really might get away before June.

Dallas under Gonzalez has been playing a 4-2-3-1 of their own, and their wingers — especially Michael Barrios — will have watched what Christian Espinosa and Shea Salinas did last weekend and be relishing their opportunity to get after the Timbers' beleaguered fullbacks.

The Lineup

1 - Attinella
16 - Valentin
25 - Tuiloma
33 - Mabiala
18 - Cascante
2 - Moriera
21 - Chara
20 - Guzman
10 - Blanco
8 - Valeri
17 - Ebobisse

— If Savarese needs to add another center back, he's likely picking between Julio Cascante and Claude Dielna — and while Cascante hasn't been great to start the year, Dielna has been considerably worse.

— Your guess as to who starts at fullback. Villafaña and Moriera were both abysmal against San Jose.

— If Savarese's reaction to Lucas Melano's insubordination last week is anything like his reaction to Liam Ridgewell's insubordination last year, we won't be seeing the Argentinian forward anytime soon.

— Andy Polo is injured, and not expected to play any significant part in the game.

The Memory

Just over a year ago, Savarese took the Timbers to Dallas under a similarly intense amount of pressure after his team had suffered a humiliating 4-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls the week before. That day, they ground out a season-altering 1-1 draw. They'd take a similar result tomorrow.

The Pick

Dallas have been good at home this year, and while the Timbers will play better than they did in San Jose, it won't be enough. They'll lose a fifth straight by a score of 2-1.