The Breakdown: FC Dallas at Portland Timbers – MLS Cup Playoffs 2020

Everything was stacked against FC Dallas in this one.  Only one previous win in Portland in franchise history. Just two wins on the road all year, only one of which was officially a “road win”. 

Everyone was picking Portland to win, even me.

So it should be no surprise that FCD Coach Luchi Gonzalez went to the Northwest with a mid-block defensive stance in order to draw out the Timbers and try to go stifle the game.  We talked about how this would be the plan for two weeks on the podcast. 

They put us in trouble the first 20 minutes. But we were making plays defensively, we didn’t concede and as the game went on we found more of the ball, found more space and found the game ultimately.

Coach Luchi Gonzalez

Huge win. Ok, technically it’s a tie. But huge anyway.

Let’s break it down…

Lineups and Tactics

As predicted in this space, Dallas with a mid-block 4-2-3-1. Bressan, unsurprisingly, kept his place. Ryan Hollingshead at left wing and Johnny Nelson was the setup we expected. 

Michael Barrios on the bench with Fafa Picault at right wing was not. 

The FC Dallas staring XI at Portland Timbers in the MLS Playoffs, November 22, 2020.

As is typical around the 60th to 70th minutes, Jesus Ferreira was subbed off.  Tanner Tessmann replaced him in the 61st minute.  Then in the 80th minute, Ema Twumasi came on for Andres Ricaurte.

After the Timbers scored, Coach G rolled the dice with some offensive talent to get the goal back.  Ricardo Pepi and Michael Barrios coming on for Johnny Nelson and Thiago Santos.  Hollingshead shifted to left back and Tessmann to the 6 leaving FCD in a very offensive version of their 4-3-3.

Finally in overtime, FCD brought on Reto Ziegler and went into the 5-4-1 game-kill shape.  Reto’s PK talent was also a factor in the sub.

The FC Dallas late game 5-4-1 at Portland Timbers in the MLS Playoffs, November 22, 2020.

Portland also in a 4-2-3-1

Portland Timbers XI vs FC Dallas in the MLS Playoffs, November 22, 2020. (Courtesy MLS)

At halftime, Cristhian Paredes came on for Eryk Williamson who had pulled up lame. 

Late in the game, Jeremy Ebobisse replaced Felipe Mora to get some fresh legs up front. Marco Farfan replaced Pablo Bonilla and Marvin Loría replaced Yimmi Chará as the Timbers tried to close out the game.

At halftime of overtime the final Timber sub was Blake Bodily for Andy Polo.


0-1 Portland Timber goal. 82nd minute. The Timbers work a nice combo outside the box, Jorge Villafaña plays to Cristhian Paredes and breaks into the box untracked by Tessmann or Hollingshead both of whom were in position.  Paredes plays to Diego Valeri who taps it in front of the rushing Villafaña who scores.

1-1 FC Dallas goal. 93rd minute. Matt Hedges, who for some reason is in midfield, plays a ball over the top. The onrushing Ricardo Pepi shoots past Steve Clark and hits the post. Following his shot, Pepi is able to finish the rebound for the goal.

We kept fighting for our goal. In the 93rd minute, the goal came, and it brought a lot of confidence to the team to keep pushing and to keep fighting until the very end.

Ricardo Pepi

El Bueno

Jimmy Maurer was my Man of the Match. He was outstanding all night registering 7 saves.  His 7 saves tie him for 3rd most saves in franchise history by a goalkeeper in a playoff game. Mark Dodd holds the record with 12 on Sept 26, 1996.  A fantastic performance by Maurer who has gotten it done all year.  The game-winning PK save in the 8th round was massive.

I was frustrated. I felt like I was getting good reads on the PKs, I got really close on a few, even the one that went down the middle I thought I was going to be able to get my foot on it. I just knew that the guys were taking their shots so well that I was like ‘I just got to get one, just got to get one and we’re going to win it’. I was pissed, to be honest. I was like ‘I’m saving this next one’ and that will do it.  

Jimmy Maurer

Outstanding PK performance by FC Dallas.  Both clubs, really, put on a PK clinic. FC Dallas is the first team to score eight consecutive penalties in a shootout in MLS Cup Playoff history.

Ryan Hollingshead was terrific first as a left wing, then on the right, finally shifting to his – these days at least – natural left back position.  While I prefer him to just play left back, in this defensive first lineup he’s one of the best defending wings so it makes some sense. 81 touches, 86% passing, 6 for 7 on dribbles, 3 aerials won, 2 shots, fouled twice, 3 tackles, 2 intercepts, 7 clearances, and 6 recoveries. Fantastic performance.

Ricardo Pepi becomes the youngest player in FC Dallas postseason history (third youngest in MLS Cup playoffs history) to score a postseason goal at 17 years, 318 days old. He was also the youngest to make his MLS postseason debut for the club. 23 touches, 87% passing, 3 shots all on net, and the game-tying goal.

I was super impressed – as I have been all year – with Tanner Tessmann in this one. He was such a calming influence. Able to turn, switch play, and relieve pressure. His outlet passing was a big part of Dallas getting forward late – 76% passing (see final note) but a lovely 7 for 7 on long balls.  And his PK attempt was tip top.  Amazing for an 18-year-old. One thing to improve, passing into the attacking third.

Tanner Tessmann’s passing and defensive chart against Portland Timbers, November 22, 2020. (Courtesy MLS)

Full credit Ema Twumasi who came on for only his 8th appearance for FCD all-time.  Twumasi is mostly a winger, but Luchi asked him to play as a linking-8 and then as a 6 in a double-6 look. He did pretty well, passing at a 90% clip.  My assumption as to why he was chosen over Brandon Servania – a natural 6/8 – is Coach G was looking for someone with a vertical attacking style to get forward as an extra attacker on the counter.

Bryan Reynolds became the youngest player to complete a postseason match for FC Dallas at 19 years, 147 days old.  He was clearly asked to play defensively until quite late on. After he was given free rein he got forward and starting bombing in crosses (6). Solid game doing the job he was asked.

Matt Hedges – back to wearing the captain’s armband – was a beast as usual. 103 touches, 86% passing, 4 aerials won, 1 key pass, 2 tackles, 4 intercepts, 10 clearances, 1 block, and 0 fouls committed. Throw in 10 of 17 on long balls and, pretty much, an assist. Just immense.

Matt Hedges’ passing and defensive chart against Portland Timbers, November 22, 2020. (Courtesy MLS)

Camino del Medio

I almost put Bressan in the top section as he had 86 touches, 87% passing, 6 aerials won, 2 tackles, 7 interceptions, 10 clearances, and 2 blocks. But he overreached 3 or 4 times and mostly had someone cover up for him in this one. That can cost a team though. Needs to be better still.

As much as I love Andres Ricaurte as a deep playmaker, I didn’t like him in that deep position with these kill the game tactics.  In this shape, Ricaurte is a player who can hold up, shield, turn, and relieve pressure. That’s a better fit in the Ferreira 10 position with Tanner Tessmann as the deep playmaker in a game-kill.

The FC Dallas shot selection was pretty good with 80% of their shots coming in the box. But the accuracy was not. Only 5 of their shots were on target. That’s less than 50%.  Was the playoff pressure? Just the road? Needs to be better.

Fafa Picault on the left wasn’t working all that great. The swap with Hollingshead helped some. Picault had 3 key passes all from the left side after basically doing nothing on the right. He did have 5 intercepts but he was 1 for 4 in dribbles on the right and 2 for 5 on the left… not great. Combined with being dispossessed 3 times and 3 poor touches plus 3 fouls committed. Overall not a very good night with only the 3 key passes redeeming him in the Middle of the Road.

Muy Feo

Diego Valeri almost won it at the end. How painful an end that would have been. Special players are special. *glances at Paxton Pomykal*

Thank God it didn’t go in. After that whole game, if that would have gone in and ended the game off of a mis-hit cross where he was trying to find Jeremy (Ebobisse) on the back post that would have been absolutely our breaking point. 

Jimmy Maurer

FCD allowed too many shots by Portland inside the box at 80%.  That’s not good enough in a defensive game plan. Have to keep them outside the penalty area.  Thankfully Portland only got 8 of their 22 shots on target and Maurer saved 7 of them.

So a defensive plan yes, that was good. But a little too passive, too deep, allowing too many good chances to the Timbers.  In the end, the plan worked, but the mentality needs to be better. More “on the front foot” as Taylor Twellman kept saying (a phrase I’ve used in this context too).  They need that fight they showed at Nashville not the passivity of the games at RSL and Minnesota United.

Next Game

FC Dallas advances to face the winner of Tuesday’s LAFC and Seattle Sounders match. The 2nd round game will be either December 1st or 2nd.  If LAFC wins on Tuesday, Dallas will host the LA. If Seattle wins, Low Toros will travel to the Northwest again.

Instant Reaction – 3 Things

FC Dallas at Portland Timbers, 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.


  1. Nice write-up. Rough night for Jesus who I thought was able to find some good spots to impact the game but never asserted himself to make a play.

  2. Agreed. Nice writeup. Other than 15-20 minutes in the middle of the second half, I really did not feel like Portland’s pressure what particularly dangerous. Conceding shots is always risky, but the defense stayed compact.
    I would give a MOTM shout to Hohead. He was especially effective pinching in on the wing. Maybe delivered more middle field offense that the center mids. The disconnect with Ricuarte and Ferreira drives me nuts.
    Also, I was audibly shouting at my phone for Tessman. Lack of movement through the middle absolutely needed his ball switching to wide areas. His long ball abilities are really quite remarkable.
    I am really down on Jara. He is fine, but it seems like he is the wrong player for this team. Any chance we see more Pepi minutes in Seattle? The athleticism of the subs really opened up the attack, but for Pepi, it seems like you don’t lose anything with scoring efficiency.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *