FRISCO, Texas – There’s little question that FC Dallas will need to chase the game when they host the Portland Timbers in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday evening (5 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2).
They’re trailing the Portland Timbers 3-1 on aggregate and will need to score at least two goals on Sunday to have any hope of progressing to the final stage of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
It’s safe to say that Dallas will be the aggressors in this matchup, but with the away goals rule playing such a crucial role in teams’ strategies FCD are keenly aware that any goal they give up to Portland could have dire ramifications for any hopes they have of taking the series, not to mention the team’s first MLS Cup.
It’ll be high-stakes soccer, but Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja has done his best to keep his team in a positive mindset ahead of the decisive match on Sunday.
“They should feel like that they have done a great job so far. Nobody has given them anything,” Pareja told reporters on Saturday. “I can’t praise them enough and they should be in great spirits. They have one more game to play here in the Conference Championship and it’s a rival that we have beaten before. The series is very open for us. We should be in good spirits.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Pareja’s young team, who are nonetheless growing more and more accustomed to the playoff atmosphere after a three-game run in last year’s playoffs and three more games this time around.
“He’s just instilled confidence in us and told us, ‘Just go out there and play and be patient. We know we can score at any time and we know we’re good at home,’” said 23-year-old starting midfielder Victor Ulloa. “So he gives us all the confidence.”
Dallas will also have the advantage of playing on a bigger, grass field at home, where they went an MLS-best 13-2-2 in the regular season – a big difference from the smaller turf surface in Portland.
“It’s huge, having the big field,” said Dallas defender Matt Hedges. “It lets our fast guys get in behind and do what they can with the ball and it allows Mauro [Diaz] to get a little bit more space in the middle.”
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As far as approach was concerned, the Timbers came out flying in the first leg of the series, and although they did not get their first goal until midway through the first half, they put Dallas on the back foot early. Now that the venue has shifted to Texas and Dallas are have an undeniable need for goals, will they come out swinging in a similar fashion?
“It’s important, really, for us first to keep the seal in the back and also it would be fantastic if could score early,” said Pareja. “That’s the dream of every coach in every game. Score early, set the tone early and we have to be prepared for different scenarios the game brings you and you sometimes don’t expect it, and that’s why we need to be prepared.
“It’s going to be a long game, 90 minutes of teams that have different needs, and we’ll see.”