The great part about being an underdog is that it gives you the opportunity to defy expectations.
To hear FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez tell it, that's exactly his team's mentality ahead of their matchup with the Portland Timbers in Round One of the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs on November 22 (10 pm ET | TV & streaming info).
Not many have picked FC Dallas to advance as they get ready to head to Providence Park as the No. 6 seed against a No. 3- seeded Timbers side that has been up near the top of the Western Conference table for much of the season. But when you're in that situation, Gonzalez said, the only thing to do is embrace the role.
"It seems like everybody's already made up their mind that Portland's going to win this game," Gonzalez told reporters on his Tuesday video call. "They're already looking at who they play next: Is it LAFC or Seattle, and what does that matchup look like, is it going to be the Cascadia Cup again. That's fine. If we're going to be overlooked or that big of an underdog, no problem. That's fine. Let's work the best we can to do something about those opinions. And I know the group is in that mindset, I don't have to say too much to them, they already know we're not the favorites in this. We're going to embrace that role because it is about the given night, the given day.
"Portland know that in defeating us when we were a higher seed a few years ago here in our home stadium," he continued. "So, hey, this is what makes our sport exciting this time of year in the playoffs. I'm just proud of our players to reach this level and want to make sure I can support them the best we can to take the next step. I have yet to win a playoff game myself personally. This is probably the hardest game of our season, but nothing's impossible and we're going to keep believing and keep working and taking steps."
It's matchup that certainly sets up an interesting contrast between Portland's veteran, battled-tested group and a younger FC Dallas side that doesn't have as much playoff experience to lean on.
But can that youthful exuberance be spun to their advantage? Dallas goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer is one of the elder statesmen of the group, and said that he feels as though his team's youth can be an asset with the right approach and a mixture of advice and pointers from the club veterans.
"The great thing about the young guys is they're fearless," Maurer said. "These guys just step in and perform as teenagers as they've shown all year and the years past. Some of the guys are young but they have a lot of games under their belt already. But it's just maybe giving some minor advice of what it's going to be like, maybe reminding them if they haven't been up to Portland, what it's like to play there, little things. But it's really not too much.
"I think the biggest thing with playoff matches is the team that can come in almost the most relaxed, there's going to be tons of adrenaline, everyone knows what's at stake, so the team that can be more composed and not be thinking too much is going to be the team that succeeds. So with us I really like our youth. These guys are not overthinking things, they're coming in, their minds are clear, they're just excited to play and have tons of energy. And I think that's going to be huge for us, we really need to lean into that and for sure have more experienced guys to bring some leadership and composure in some moments. But the reins are off, it's playoffs, we've got to let it fly, be hungry and really take it to Portland when we get up there."
Providence Park is one of the league's most hostile venues for traveling opposition, but this time around there will be no fans in attendance, something that also might work in Dallas' favor as they look to turn around their luck in a stadium where they've historically struggled.
Dallas have a record of 1W-6L-3T in Portland, with that one win coming back in April 2016. Maurer said that while he wishes the venue was able to host Portland's notoriously raucous crowd, their absence could be a factor come kickoff, and it's up to his team to capitalize if that should be the case.
"The only thing I'll say on the topic of the fans not being there is it's an advantage for us," Maurer said. "The fans give them energy, and they also pressure the refs a lot up there, it's really hard to get calls when the fans are in the building up there. So for us it's just all about taking advantage of the moment. It's really unfortunate their fans can't be there, it is an incredible atmosphere, I've really enjoyed the games we've been able to play there and seeing that atmosphere in that venue when it's been full. But to be honest it's an advantage for us, and we've got to go up there and push and take advantage of it."