Portland vs Dallas: Playoff expectations and predictions

by Kevin Nesgoda

The Portland Timbers will host FC Dallas in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs tonight at 7pm on ESPN. Dallas is one of the only teams Portland is yet to face this season, and this single-leg elimination game is instantly the biggest of the season.


Image by Devin L'Amoreaux and Jared Martinez via MLS

Image by Devin L’Amoreaux and Jared Martinez via MLS

If you’re reading this, you probably know Portland is the third seed and Dallas is the sixth. Bovada has the Timbers as +115 favorites, with Dallas at +220 and a draw at +260. FiveThirtyEight.com gives Portland a 62% chance to advance, compared to Dallas’ 38%.

Remember, though, this match will go to penalties should it go the distance. As of right now, we’ve seen two playoff games go to extra time and penalties: Orlando’s goalkeeper fiasco ended in a field player making the game-winning save against NYCFC, while Sporting KC’s Tim Melia saved all three of San Jose’s attempts in the shortest shootout in MLS history.

The Timbers do have penalty experience earlier this season after defeating FC Cincinnati on kicks from the spot in the first knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament.

FC Dallas are carried by Andres Ricuarte, a hard-working central midfielder who was signed over the summer; as well as veteran defenders Matt Hedges and Ryan Hollingshead. Dallas also have key players out for the season: Paxton Pomykal suffered a season-ending hip injury, while Czech striker Zdeněk Ondrášek and right back Reggie Cannon were transferred to Europe.

Who’s in and who’s out?

The Timbers flirted with the idea of Felipe Mora and Andy Polo being shunned for this match because of the COVID restrictions surrounding their World Cup Qualifying appearances in South America, but MLS’s chartered flights plan has them on track to be ready for this game.

The official injury report lists Sebastián Blanco (right ACL surgery), Julio Cascante (left ankle), Jaroslaw Niezgoda (left ACL tear) as OUT, but that list will also include Dairon Asprilla after the MLS Disciplinary Committee gave him a retroactive suspension.

Jeremy Ebobisse is listed as questionable, and Savarese was not tipping his hand about who was in or out during his last press conference.

I expect Mora to start up top, with Yimmi Chará on the left wing and either a healthy Ebobisse or Marvin Loría on the right. Diego Valeri in the center supported by Diego Chará and Eryk Williamson is what we can definitely expect. The defense will include Jorge Villafaña (third-best left-back in MLS?), Dario Župarić, Larrys Mabiala, and either Pablo Bonilla or Chris Duvall at right back. Steve Clark will be in goal.

Personally, I think Duvall is better-equipped to get the start tonight. Although he’s dealt with injuries and missed a lot of time this season, he’s more experienced and less error-prone than Bonilla.

Prediction

Dallas is one of the worst goal-scoring teams in the league (only 1.3 goals per match), and Portland’s average is 2.0. The Timbers concede 1.5 goals per game, though, compared to FCD’s 1.1.

Just like two years ago (in a knockout match in Dallas), I think this match will come down to individuals doing insane things. Last time, it was Diego Valeri. Even in 2018, we had naive questions about Valeri’s age that became silenced. Who’s to say he still can’t produce his magic?

3-1 Timbers, and Valeri gets a goal and assist—the assist will come off a corner kick. I don’t know how or why any of this will or won’t happen. But I do know one thing: I’m beyond excited for this match!


Follow @doublepostpod on Twitter for live coverage and postgame quotes.

And, as always, Go Timbers!

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