The conversation around MLS was hijacked late on Sunday night, when the LA Galaxy's Nigel de Jong stomped on the ankle of Timbers' star Darlington Nagbe in one of the most gruesome challenges the league has seen in the last five years.
In the long-run, the incident will serve as a landmark event in MLS in much the same way as Brian Mullen's leg-breaking tackle on Steve Zakuani did. But everyone ultimately most concerned with Nagbe's health got excellent news on Monday.
Nagbe's ankle, miraculously, isn't broken. Thanks to his superhuman durability, the American international escaped de Jong with a medial ankle sprain and contusion. Nagbe will miss considerable time. But he's going to be fine.
Now, though, the Timbers are in a spot of trouble. Missing a number of key players and sitting on a single win in five games to start the season, FC Dallas comes to town for what could be an emotionally-charged Wednesday night tilt at Providence Park (7:30 PM, TV on ROOT Sports).
This game serves as a rematch of last year's Western Conference Final, when the Timbers knocked out Dallas. It was a series with plenty of drama — eight goals in total, the final of which was Lucas Melano's tap-dance effort to seal Portland's place in MLS Cup.
Of course, the Timbers never would have reached the Western Conference Final last year without Maxi Urruti. It was the Argentine who kept the Timbers alive in the playoffs with a last-gasp goal against Sporting Kansas City in the Wild Card game.
Salary cap constraints meant that the Timbers couldn't retain the fan-favorite in the offseason, and Dallas leaped at the chance to add the striker. This game will mark Urruti's first match in Portland in opposition colors, and he should get his signature Apache-flavored welcome.
The Timbers have never lost against Dallas at Providence Park. The teams met last April in Portland, with the Timbers running out 3-1 winners for their first win of 2015. The 2014 meeting in Portland was a wild one, with Blas Perez sent off for stomping on Pa Modou Kah — who responded by scoring his only goal for the Timbers to tie the game 2-2 in stoppage time.
Nagbe's injury comes at a difficult time for the Timbers, who have seven games in the next month and change. Considering the short rest, injury challenges, and prospect of an important match against San Jose coming up on Saturday, Caleb Porter's task in crafting a lineup for Dallas is an difficult one.
Porter opted for the old 4-2-3-1 look in LA on Sunday, reinstating Jack Jewsbury in the hopes of shoring up a Timbers defense that had struggled all year before falling apart completely in Orlando the week before. The gambit worked — Jewsbury was his measured best, and, with less of the game being played in transition, both Nat Borchers and Jermaine Taylor performed well.
Jewsbury's presence was also a boost for Diego Chara, who had his best game of the season. For those reasons, expect the 4-2-3-1 to stay for the time being. The like-for-like replacement for Nagbe is Ned Grabavoy, who is a capable shuttler in his own right.
Grabavoy needs to make an impression, and the Timbers will need him to click with Diego Valeri if they want to create any offense outside of Fanendo Adi's reliable hold-up play. Lucas Melano looks like a lost cause at the moment, but with Dairon Asprilla out injured, his place looks secure.
The major question around Dallas is the health of their playmaker Mauro Diaz, who has been out since mid-March. His status is questionable, but it's more likely than not that he won't play. Alvas Powell has had a terrible stretch of games, and he'll be tested against Dallas' Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios.
Oscar Pareja will fancy Urruti's pace against Borchers and Taylor, but Borchers especially knows how to play his former teammate.
12 - Kwarasey
2 - Powell
4 - Taylor
7 - Borchers
15 - Klute
13 - Jewsbury (C)
21 - Chara
10 - Grabavoy
8 - Valeri
26 - Melano
9 - Adi
The de Jong incident has changed — Porter used the word "galvanized" — the mood around this Timbers team. They'll come out fired up, and grind out a big 2-1 win.