PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ The Portland Timbers aim for aggressiveness against FC Dallas, just not to the point of recklessness.
The Timbers host Dallas on Sunday in the first of a two-legged playoff for the Western Conference championship. The New York Red Bulls visit the Columbus Crew in the early game Sunday for the Eastern title.
Portland has peaked at the right time. The Timbers are unbeaten at 4-0-2 in their last six matches, including a 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps to clinch the conference semifinal.
But they’ll be without key contributors Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace because of yellow card accumulation.
“We want to play aggressive in this first leg. It is a different situation that the first leg against Vancouver because we had to manage the short window (between games),” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “But we can’t get too carried away trying to go win the game and trying to score goals. Sometimes that happens to us at home because of the energy of our fans. Sometimes we’ve let that, almost, get reckless. We need to be mentally and tactically very composed.”
Fanendo Adi led the Timbers this season with 16 goals. Darlington Nagbe, back with Portland after his first call up to the U.S. national team.
Nagbe will step into the No. 10 position in Valeri’s place.
“I feel good about it,” Nagbe said. “Against Colorado I got a chance to play there. It worked out there, so hopefully it works out again.”
It is the second time since the Timbers jumped to Major League Soccer in 2011 that they’ve made it to the conference championship. The team fell to Real Salt Lake 5-2 on aggregate in 2013.
FC Dallas, the West’s top seed, advanced following a 4-2 penalty shootout in the second leg of their conference semifinal against the Seattle Sounders.
Dallas was dealt a blow this week with the death of coach Oscar Pareja’s mother in Colombia on Thursday. Pareja traveled to his native country to be with his family, but was expected to be back in Portland for Sunday’s match.
Dallas ended the regular season with a five-game unbeaten streak. Fabian Castillo led the team in the regular season with nine goals and nine assists.
The Red Bulls and Crew play in a rematch of the 2008 MLS Cup match, which Columbus won 3-1. New York has never been able to beat the Crew in the playoffs.
“The way that they play with the ball I think is something that every team strives to be like,” New York midfielder Dax McCarty said about the Crew. “They’re very dangerous in a lot of different ways.”
Bradley Wright-Phillips had 17 goals this season for the Red Bulls, winners of this season’s Supporters’ Shield. New York defeated DC United with consecutive 1-0 results in the conference semifinal to advance.
Columbus, which advanced to the conference championship for the sixth time, claimed the second leg of their semifinal against Montreal 3-1 to win 4-3 on aggregate. The Crew’s Kei Kamara, who led the team this season with 22 goals, is tied for the league high with Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco.
But Columbus will be without Gaston Sauro on its backline because of yellow card accumulation.
All four teams remaining in the playoffs are coming off a two-week break for international play. The winners of the conference championships meet in the MLS Cup on Dec. 6.