This Saturday, April 29th, at 5:00 PM PT, the Portland Timbers will face the biggest challenge of the season so far. The Timbers head down to Frisco, Texas to face FC Dallas, the only unbeaten team left in Major League Soccer.
The Timbers currently sit atop the Supporters’ Shield standings with 16 points after their first eight games. The next two teams, Orlando City (15 points) and FC Dallas (14 points), have each earned their position with only six games played. A victory on Saturday will do more than give the Timbers a bit of room between themselves and their Western Conference foe, it will decisively demonstrate who the best team in MLS is right now (sorry Orlando, make it to the Cup final and then we’ll talk).
And they may need to do it without the help of arguably their best player, Diego Valeri. Valeri not only came out in the 80th minute of the Timbers victory against Vancouver with a hip injury, but had to be carried off the field on a stretcher, a sight that took away the collective breath of the Providence Park faithful. On Tuesday, neither Valeri, nor goalkeeper Jake Gleeson (both out with hip/hip flexor injuries), were active in practice. As of today, the team is reporting that both are still questionable for the game this weekend.
It should be noted that FC Dallas (eliminated from the playoffs by Seattle in the Western Conference semi-finals last year) have been without their star, Mauro Diaz, all season. Diaz tore his Achilles tendon in the final regular season game of last year. It is not hyperbole to state that after a dominant year that saw Dallas hoist up the Supporters Shield, Diaz’s injury ended the number one seed’s MLS Cup run.
FC Dallas is coming off a 1-0 win against Sporting Kansas City, the only other unbeaten team in the league until that game. They are playing with confidence, which is terrifying when you realize how much strength and skill is behind that confidence.
The Timbers are going to need to bring their A-game if they want to steal three points on the road. A draw would feel like a small victory in this one, but that’s not the kind of team the Timbers are. Forget about the road, the travel, the Texas heat. They are on top of the table for a reason: they are just that good.
We’ve talked about Portland’s struggles on the road. Saturday is their chance to show the league after missing out on the playoffs last year, they are once again, the best team in MLS. At this point, still early in the season, the Timbers look like they’ve returned to the form that took them all the way to their first MLS Cup championship two seasons ago. And nothing, not even an injury to a player as important as Valeri, looks like it can stop them from continuing to improve and impress. The true sign of a championship team is when they can win amidst adversity.
A draw on the road is always a positive result, and a loss could be excused, especially with so many more games to play. But there is something more at stake here: The chance to be the first team to beat FC Dallas this year. The winner will stand atop this week’s MLS.com Power Rankings, and will stand alone as the team to beat heading into summer.