A 3-1 result in leg one of the Western Conference finals left FC Dallas fans reeling, wondering if we had all just witnessed the end of a great 2015 season. The match certainly felt as if Portland had taken the series, but after the dust finally settled and the team landed back in Dallas-Fort Worth, the picture became much clearer.
Just a 2-0 win in front of a sold-out Toyota Stadium crowd will do it for FC Dallas. That is the minimum. There is, of course, plenty of other scenarios that let Dallas advance however a 2-0 win is the most basic. That score line is also probable, as Dallas has scored two or more goals in 14 of their 18 matches at Toyota Stadium in 2015.
One of those 14 matches included a 4-1 thrashing of Portland at home. The match would have ended 4-0 had it not been for a late penalty awarded to Portland, which Fanendo Adi converted. The number that stands out from that match is FC Dallas’ passing accuracy which ended up being 83 percent.
Compare that to Dallas’ two losses against Portland this season, the first coming on April 4th 2015. The passing percentage on April 4th was 70 percent, and in leg one of the conference finals the passing percentage was 78 percent. Both losses for the Texas club and both on the turf of Providence Park. The loss on April 4th did not feature Mauro Diaz in the starting line-up as well. Diaz provided the initial pass for leg one’s road goal for FC Dallas.
While you cannot shift the blame to the turf surface at all, it seems to be apparent that FC Dallas is much more comfortable on a grass surface. After all, they practice and play all of their home matches on grass.
The downfall in leg one was poor set-piece defending, something that has nagged Dallas all season. While FC Dallas has been a team of streaks, they have also been a team of resilience. Resilience is what has them in the conference finals in the first place, scoring two late goals to force Seattle’s hand in a penalty shootout.
One thing that could change from the first leg is the use of Tesho Akindele. Oscar Pareja has been known to hold his substitutions on the sideline for a while, but Tesho can be used so much more effectively than in leg one.
Tesho has been clutch down the stretch, and almost proved that when he got on the end of a Ryan Hollingshead cross with his first touch of leg one after checking in. Adam Kwarasey made the save.
Something else that must improve for FC Dallas is the play of Zach Loyd and Hollingshead from leg one. Having been solid all year, it was tough to see these two struggle in leg one. Hollingshead muffed a chance, and Loyd mistakes arguably led to two of Portland’s three goals.
Should those two return to regular form, and expect them two as they are the epitome of the hard working FC Dallas motto, the defense may just return to their outstanding form of late regular season.
The first 20 minutes of the match will tell us a lot of how the match will play out. Will both sides be pushing for a goal, or will it be cagey to the point that neither side wants to concede. A goal conceded for either side could be fatal in their season.
If there is one thing regularly known about this FC Dallas squad, it is that they love playing in front of the support of the home crowd. Should Dallas be able to keep Portland off the scoresheet, they set themselves up for advancement to the MLS Cup final. Should Portland get on the score sheet, they more than likely are, “Cup Bound and Down.”