Western Conference Championship: Head-to-head breakdown of Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas

Fabian Castillo (FC Dallas) dribbles against Diego Chara and Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers)

The Portland Timbers and FC Dallas are set face off in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday night (7:30 pm ET; FS1 in US/TSN5 in Canada). Much like the Columbus-New York series out East, the Portland-Dallas battle should be a hotly contested matchup. Some of the MLSsoccer.com editors broke down just how these two teams match up, showing you who will have the edge. 

<img alt="POR" src="https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/mp6/1581_200x200.png">
<p>On one end you have a goalkeeper who has played in a World Cup. On the other you have a 20-year-old who has played just 13 professional games. You'd think this would be an easy choice. Truly, it's&nbsp;not. <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/jesse-gonzalez">Jesse Gonzalez</a> has been a revelation for FC Dallas since his insertion into the lineup on Aug.&nbsp;22. He had a goals against average of under 1, the best mark in MLS, and saved two of the four penalties he faced in FCD's&nbsp;shootout against the Sounders in the Conference Semifinals.</p><p>But <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/adam-kwarasey">Adam Kwarasey</a> is no slouch. He tied for the league lead in clean sheets with 13 and was one of the steadiest goalkeepers in MLS throughout the entire season.&nbsp;He also had some penalty shootout heroics of his own, saving a couple in Portland's Knockout Round win over Sporting Kansas City. In the end, you have to trust the experience Kwarasey brings in this big stage.&nbsp;– <em><a href="http://twitter.com/benbaer89">BEN BAER</a></em></p>
<img alt="DAL" src="https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/mp6/1903_200x200.png">
<p>Don't go reading into that FC Dallas crest too much. This is basically a toss-up. Portland have plenty of experience up the gut in Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, but Dallas have the league's longest-tenured centerback pairing in Matt Hedges and Zach Loyd. I'm giving the edge to the Texans because of the emergence of Ryan Hollingshead at left back, a move that's helped prevent teams from ganging up with numbers on Fabian Castillo, and the mystery box potential of Je-Vaughn Watson. Thing is, Alvas Powell is one of the best young right backs in CONCACAF, and Jorge Villafana is way past that Sueno moniker. Both attacks have their work cut out for them. – <em><a href="http://twitter.com/andrew_wiebe">ANDREW WIEBE</a></em></p>
<img alt="DAL" src="https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/mp6/1903_200x200.png" style="opacity: 0.9; line-height: 20.8px;">
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">FC Dallas has put together a strong five-man midfield, but it’s hard to deny that their unit lives and dies with the form of gifted Argentine playmaker <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/mauro-diaz">Mauro Diaz</a>, who is healthy and performing at a high level, and 24 Under 24 winner <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/fabian-castillo">Fabian Castillo</a> on the wing, who can torment any defense with his speed and incredible dribbling skills. If Castillo weren’t enough to deal with, <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/michael-barrios">Michael Barrios</a> is another burner on the other flank, while the young defensive midfield pairing of <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/victor-ulloa">Victor Ulloa</a> and <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/kellyn-acosta">Kellyn Acosta</a> have exceeded expectations this season.</span><p>Over in Portland, the big story around the midfield group has been the team’s switch from a 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders to a 4-3-3 formation that fields <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/diego-valeri">Diego Valeri</a>, plus&nbsp;USMNT debutant <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/darlington-nagbe">Darlington Nagbe</a> in a new position,&nbsp;as attack-minded central midfielders in front of <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/diego-chara">Diego Chara</a>. This has put captain <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/will-johnson">Will Johnson</a>, who is recovering from injury, on ice, but after featuring heavily for Canada in their positive start to World Cup qualifying, Johnson will be a potent threat off the bench.</p><p>Dallas’ speed on the flanks and&nbsp;may give them the edge in another promising matchup of two technically gifted midfield groups, but it may just come down to which Argentine playmaker – Valeri or Diaz – can provide that extra touch of brilliance.&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">– </span><a href="http://twitter.com/nicholasrosano" style="line-height: 1.6em;"><em>NICHOLAS ROSANO</em></a></p>
<img alt="POR" src="https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/mp6/1581_200x200.png">
<p>There is a weakness in FC Dallas’s lineup, and it’s at center forward. <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/david-texeira">David Texeira</a>, the regular starter at this point, has scored only once against a playoff-caliber opponent in 2015, and that happened to be the leaky, pre-<a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/gaston-sauro">Gaston Sauro</a> Columbus defense. Good teams have been able to consistently take him out of the game, as Seattle did in the West semis. Oscar Pareja does have the luxury of bringing <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/tesho-akindele">Tesho Akindele</a> or <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/blas-perez">Blas Perez</a> in off the bench, but both those guys are limited (Akindele can’t hold the ball up, and Perez can’t run) in a way that puts pressure on the midfield.</p><p>The Portland Timbers don’t have that problem. While <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/darlington-nagbe">Darlington Nagbe</a>’s switch to central midfield has gotten most of the attention, <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/fanendo-adi">Fanendo Adi</a>’s evolution into one of the league’s best target forwards – a rugged, efficient and effective No. 9 who has the skill and strength to hold the ball up and connect passes, and the mindset to take a beating if it helps the team – has been just as crucial. He’s been phenomenal, and change-of-pace substitute <a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/players/maximiliano-urruti">Maxi Urruti</a> has been a match-winner off the bench. – <em><a href="https://twitter.com/MLSAnalyst">MATT DOYLE</a></em></p>