Zach Loyd - FC Dallas - Close up

FRISCO, Texas – Between “TissueGate” in April and last season’s red card-a-thon, the Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas matchup has become a chippy one, to say the least.

It can only be expected that with the stakes even higher, then, that tempers could continue to flare when the two squads collide in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday at Providence Park (7:30 pm ET; FS1 and FOX Deportes in the US, TSN5 in Canada).

“I’m expecting Western Conference Final-like intensity – even higher than the first round of the playoffs,” said defender Matt Hedges, who has been candid about his distaste for the Timbers. “This is to go to the MLS Finals. It’s going to be maximum intensity.”

The 2-2 draw in June 2014 match that led to two Dallas red cards and the ejection of an FC Dallas coach in the final ten minutes as Portland rallied to tie the game was part of a troubling trend for FCD against the Timbers. Dallas is 2-4-2 against Portland in the last three seasons, posting a 0-3-1 record at Providence Park. 
The trend this season has also been domination for the home team. FC Dallas eased to a 4-1 win in the most recent match this past July in Frisco, but the Timbers prevailed 3-1 earlier in the season at Providence Park.

And even while Dallas is a vastly different today than it was in April, midfielder Victor Ulloa believes the first matchup was Dallas’ for the taking.

“We feel like we deserved more when we played there,” Ulloa told “We felt like we played well against them, and for one reason or another, it didn’t go our way.”

Even with the lopsided loss away from Toyota Stadium, Dallas’ sense of confidence could have some merit. With an 8-3-6 regular season mark in Portland, the Timbers had the second-worst home record of any team that made the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
On the flipside, Dallas have struggled on the road (5-8-4), and FC Dallas players have a lot of respect for the hostile environment Portland fans create at Providence Park.
“They get you riled up,” defender Ryan Hollingshead said. “They’re cheering the whole game and chanting things the whole game, which gets you as a player or coach riled up. It gets you fired up, but it pumps the adrenaline to get you playing. And it gets you a little heated if calls don’t go your way.”
Portland and Dallas share similar paths in that they both lack an MLS Cup in their trophy cases, despite showing flashes of success in recent years. According to Hollingshead, that has played a role into the matchup’s intensity over the last year-and-a-half.
“We’re both teams in a similar spot,” Hollingshead said. “We’re both teams trying to prove ourselves in the league and prove that we’re a top team in the league."

Hedges said he will have to remind his squad to play intelligently and not let the road environment get the best of them in what has been a recently heated series. Zach Loyd, Hedges' center back partner, struck a similar chord, saying that Dallas' intensity is going to be there, regardless of the opponent.

“We’ve had some heated games in the past. It’s always hard to go there,” defender Zach Loyd said. “It’s such a great environment with great fans there. But whether it’s Portland or anyone else, it’s the Western Conference Final. It’s going to be a heated battle.”