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Match Preview – Portland Timbers vs FC Dallas

A clash of two, early-season, offensive minded, Western Conference foes takes the stage Wednesday night; some items of interest for your consideration in setting the stage for this battle.

 Here’s some topics and quick thoughts about this match Wednesday evening…

Weather – it gets hot in Texas and the forecast for Wednesday shows 88 degrees with partly cloudy skies…  with the recent hot spell in Portland the Timbers players should be okay with that heat.

Standings – Most know that FC Dallas is atop the Western Conference League table; and it hasn’t been all by luck (hand ball withstanding against Houston) that has got them there.

Here’s a short blurb from Schellas Hyndman on the FC Dallas MLS site on some preparation for this game with the past weekend off…

Formation – FC Dallas have played a 4-2-3-1 eight games out of nine with their game against  Houston featuring a Diamond 4-4-2.

Goals Scored – FC Dallas average 1.667 goals per game while PTFC average 1.55 –  the top two goal scoring teams in the Western Conference and two of the top four attacking teams in MLS; I’ll bet MLS wished NBC was carrying this game and not the potential ‘snorer’ with Chicago taking on Philadelphia…

Curved Air – For the most part FC Dallas play about 60% of their balls from Square 1 past the midfield line; the odd one out in this is the game where Seitz started in lieu of Fernandez; that game was against Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas only played 7 out of 33 balls past the midfield line.

Possession – In the three games where they have had more than 50% possession FC Dallas have taken nine points (43 minutes of Possession by average); at this time they average about 12 shots taken, 5 shots on goal and the aforementioned 1.67 goals.  In contrast Portland average 54 minutes of Possession with 14 shots taken per game, just over 5 shots on goal and the aforementioned 1.55 goals per game.

In their first four games Kenny Cooper was the target guy but in their last four games Blas Perez has taken that role.  With that change FC Dallas have taken 8 out of a possible 12 points and are unbeaten in seven straight games.

Fullbacks and overlapping – Based upon OPTA data it appears Benitez (left fullback) and Loyd (right fullback) both push forward and look to engage with crossing.  What is very unusual though is the quantity of crosses that are historically being offered up on the right versus the left.

Here’s a diagram on where their crosses have come from in their first 9 games.

FC Dallas Crosses to Date

FC Dallas Crosses to Date

It really can’t be more obvious than that; only one game did the trend go against the right side and oddly enough that was the same game where they ran a Diamond 4-4-2 (away to Houston).

As for shot takers and potential target players for FC Dallas here’s how they stand today nine games in…

FC Dallas Shot Takers and Target Players To Date

FC Dallas Shot Takers and Target Players To Date

Cooper and Perez are the leading shot takers and targets for Forwards while Jackson leads the Midfielders with Jacobson, Michel, Ferreira, and Castillo adding value.  It would appear that John is the primary target for set-pieces (corners and free kicks in the attacking third).

So what about this guy Jackson; in reviewing OPTA as well as reading up a bit on FC Dallas I would liken him to a player like Zusi; he can play either side of the pitch (has done) and has pace with an aggressive attacking streak.  With respect to defense; like Zusi he appears to track back but seems more inclined to recover loose balls and intercept (play the open spaces) as oppose to closing down and tackling.

Late Editorial – As a few have pointed out Jackson is sitting out this game due to the Red Card; @SoccerStatHunt (an FC Dallas Blogger) offers up that Castillo is likely to replace Jackson.

In going over additional OPTA data it appears that Michel and perhaps Jacobson lend themselves more to the role of enforcer(s) with Michel being more aggressive in the tackling department.  And when viewing their generic formations over the last four games both Michel and Jacobson have taken up a defensive central midfielder role similar to that of Chara and Johnson.

Wild things – For fouls conceded Jackson leads the team with 21 while Jacobson follows up with 16.  Both have one Yellow Card while Jackson leads the team with Red Cards at one.

Their substitutes – Only Watson has significant playing time outside of the most recent starting 11; in nine games played Hassli has just over 60 minutes; the idea of running Cooper, Perez and Hassli hasn’t materialized and it’s unlikely we see those three on the pitch unless the scoreline dictates.

Defense – Their back-four is strong with Hedges and John both having good pace and strength to go along with their taller body frames; John is the little guy at 6’3″.  Benitez and Loyd both have very good pace and some might consider them box-to-box midfielders who play fullback.

Goalkeepers – Fernandez has faced 40 shots with a 75% save percentage and has offered up 4 shutouts; Mister Fantastic (Donovan Ricketts) has faced 39 shots with a 69% save percentage and has offered up 3 shutouts.

Portland…

Game 2 of 3 in a 12 day span – Silvestre is out and that means Gangnes is probably on the subs bench while Baptiste and Danso lead the back-four.

In considering the FC Dallas tendency in working down their right (our left) I would offer that Harrington makes a return to that side of the pitch while Zemanski may pair up with Baptiste on the right; FC Dallas have quite a bit of pace on the wings and with Castillo (as speedy if not faster than Jackson) showing up on either wing, and this a first of two games in five days, a rest for Jewsbury might have value.

I again offer up that there could be a change elsewhere on the pitch; Portland have this game and then another on Sunday; the season is early days and some rest for a few players will add value as the season progresses.  I’m not sure if Zizzo traveled with the team but he as well as Piq might get a head nod to start if ready.

As a side note; Porter has yet to run a 4-4-2 type formation and as indicated by himself early on – before the season started – he’s not always been a 4-3-3 ‘guy’… might this match-up see PTFC trot out with both Johnson and Piq up top or perhaps someone else playing a more traditional #10 role?

However it plays out the temperature will be hot and the energy will drain quickly if possession with purpose doesn’t include a little bit of ‘rest time’ while controlling the ball.

In closing…

There are many different ways this game can play out but I sense Dallas will want to take it to Portland and make this a physical game with fouls aplenty.  They won’t want Portland to come in and score a brace or treble like what happened in Kansas City.

This is a statement game for Dallas AND Portland; FC Dallas will look to control the pace – even sometimes without the ball.  They might run traps and look to counter or they might revert to long ball and look for second chances.  Portland will want to stamp their presence in the Western Conference and show others that their posittion in the top half is warranted.

However it works out Castillo, Ferreira and Perez will most likely see quite a bit of the ball if their intent is to score.  Dallas has played a game of possession and knows going in that Portland give their opponents very little free time on the ball.  FC Dallas will probably play high and play tight; how Portland gains penetration will depend on what Dallas is willing to concede.

Portland has shown the capacity to play direct and indirect – variation has been a mainstay so far this year – with two middle defensive midfielders the road to success might be crosses from on-high and wide with some direct speed down the wings to track through-balls and switches.

I can also envision the Timbers looking for quick counters with a high and tight back four as Chara and Johnson try to shut the middle (Ferreira) and support the wings in tracking back  on either side of the pitch…

Set-pieces – as with any game a set-piece in the attacking third is dangerous – John and Hedges both have height advantages and John has 3 goals; corner balls for FC Dallas may even be more valuable to them than a free kick in the attacking half…  man-marking on those set-pieces will be critical (for both teams).

In the last game against New England it looked like every corner taken had open area short and to the near post at the corner of the 6 yard box; can Portland get their game winner from that location?

Final thought…

The track record for this team last year really has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome; this is a different year, with a different team, that has a different coach, who runs a different system – it’s time for a different result in Dallas.

Next Up Match Analysis – Portland Timbers vs FC Dallas

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckptfc

 

 

Chris Gluck

Chris Gluck

I have been covering the Portland Timbers and Major League Soccer, as a community blogger/analyst for the Columbian Newspaper, since June, 2012. Since then my involvement in soccer analysis has expanded to include participating in the Regional Emmy Award Winning Soccer City PDX TV Show (Comcast Sports Northwest). My unique analytical approach has been published in Europe and presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014. I also appear regularly as a co-host on Rose City Soccer Show and the Yellowcarded Podcast. You can find my work on PossessionwithPurpose.com, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.