MLS Playoffs

Portland Drops Dallas En Route to MLS Cup Final

Shrewd offseason moves, the emergence of Darlington Nagbe, and a propensity for winning on the road have lifted the unheralded Portland Timbers to the 2015 MLS Cup final.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 29, 2015
11:00 PM

BACK IN EARLY SEPTEMBER few would have picked the Portland Timbers to represent the Western Conference in the 2015 MLS Cup. At the time most observers thought the Los Angeles Galaxy would be unstoppable—or perhaps FC Dallas, Vancouver, Kansas City, or Seattle could make a push.

In MLS, however, fortunes can change quickly. Darlington Nagbe has emerged as one of the league’s best midfielders and his chemistry in the midfield with Diego Valeri has been first rate.

Against FC Dallas, Caleb Porter’s squad put it all together where it thoroughly outplayed FC Dallas en route to a 5-3 aggregate victory. Over the 180 minutes, it showed solid team chemistry and individual brilliance to deservedly earn its spot in the final.

Here are my thoughts on Sunday’s 2-2 draw. 

Nat Borchers was immense

Last year Portland failed to even make the playoffs and now the club is vying for the league title. While many have contributed to the team's rise, the addition of Nat Borchers has proven immense.

The long-time veteran of the league has played more than 3,000 minutes in 2015 and has been consistently strong over the course of the season. In the playoffs, he has been extremely valuable and this was evident in the second leg against FC Dallas. The Arizona native made a splash with his late block of a shot that would have given Dallas the aggregate equalizer but that only told part of the story. He was a big reason why Dallas was unable to find any offensive rhythm.

The Timbers acquired the 34-year-old Borchers from Real Salt Lake in December 2014—for allocation money. Not a bad deal.

Timbers Tough When Traveling

Portland’s success on the road has been phenomenal down the stretch: The club has lost just once in its last eight road matches. And Caleb Porter's men weren't playing cupcakes, earning results against top teams including Seattle, Columbus, Vancouver, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

It's hard to pin down precisely why some teams perform better on the road than others, but confidence in the game plan and an ability to stay organized in its approach are likely factors. It reflects very positively on Porter and his ability to get through to his team. His players showed a ton of discipline to suffocate Dallas early on and limit its offensive chances.

FC Dallas' Offseason Outlook

No one will argue that Oscar Pareja has done a fantastic job as head coach of FC Dallas. He has integrated a generation of homegrown talent which will be the core of the team moving forward. The FC Dallas academy system is producing impressive results, which suggests the pipeline is strong.

It will have to be. The 23-year-old attacker Fabian Castillo is likely going to receive offers that will be too lucrative to pass up. Mauro Diaz, 24, is another candidate for a sale. Meanwhile, 34-year-old striker Blas Perez has lost a step or two, and may not have much left in the tank..

Will Pareja replenish the loss with academy players or will the team use sale proceeds to sign a pricey designated player? Are young players like Kellyn Acosta and Victor Ulloa ready to take the next step and keep FC Dallas as one of the best teams in MLS?

It will be one of the top stories to watch in the offseason.

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