Aside from exploring every possible way to destroy Florida’s greatest export (it’s their greatest imports that are illegal), Dallas has earned a great reprieve in preparation for Saturdays match against orange Houston. If any team in the MLS needed a two-week break it was certainly FC Dallas. The breakneck pace that the season had taken finally slowed down for once. That is the upside. However, the downside remains that key starters Brek Shea, Ricardo Villar, Ugo Ihemelu, and (sarcastic drum roll, please) David Ferreira will not see action even after a large respite.
Zach Loyd put it best: “I think the most important thing is to get guys back, get guys healthy, we have a lot of injuries.” Albeit Dallas lacked an inconsistent roster at the beginning of the 2012 due to injury, the current roster has been the exact opposite of late. Results on the field, however, haven’t changed with a growth in consistent appearances among the healthy few members of the squad. With a return in personnel looming in mid-July, the team will, once again, have to do the best with what it has.
The Dynamo have been stellar at their new grounds this season, going undefeated in three matches. They have yet to set the posts alight, though, averaging only a goal per match in that undefeated streak. Credit is to be given where it is due, though: Kinnear and company have managed to hold opponents to a solitary goal in those three matches, including high-flying D.C. United.
Will Bruin and the 34 year-old Brian Ching will lead the line for the Dynamo. Credible service will flow from the likes of the ex-Dallas man Brad Davis and Luis Camargo. Davis’ reputation has been solidified since the winger accumulated a string of solid years whipping in balls from the flanks and providing the occasional drive from distance. Camargo has proven to be crafty in his short time in the league (two seasons), and will play just behind the Bruin-Ching strike force in a diamond 4-4-2 formation.
Defensively, Houston has been halfway decent, only allowing 15 goals in 12 games. Fortunately for Dallas, the Houston defense looked unstable at best in their most recent match against Vancouver. Quality service from the wings and quick combination play in front of the two center-halves ultimately picked apart the Dynamo in what amounted to be a 3-1 road loss. Unfortunately, the Dynamo away from BBVA are nothing like the team that sets foot in the orange-emblazoned grounds in Houston. FCD will have its work cut out for it in a very emotionally and physically charged match.
Blas Perez will lead the charge for Dallas, or at least we hope so. The Panamanian took a hard knock on national team duty during Wednesday night’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier. As of now, he is still slated to start. His effectiveness in holding up play and linking up with his supporting midfield will be absolutely critical if Dallas hopes to make a firm dent in Houston’s near perfect home record.
As for the midfield, it will go generally unchanged, other than the recent switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Marcelin and Hernandez both as holding center midfielders. Skill and pace provided by Castillo and Jackson on the wings should level out the midfield well. Two defensive center midfielders will serve FCD well, instead of the usual one. Let us be honest: Daniel Hernandez doesn’t cover the same amount of ground he formerly did. Marcelin can compensate for that lack of mobility and also sit deep in a position that is more natural to the Haitian.
Expect a strong battle in the center of midfield. Houston finds itself down a midfielder (to Dallas’ three center-mids), but arguably with more skill in the center of midfield. Dallas, on the other hand, has an extremely defensive presence with Jacobson, Hernandez, and Marcelin all expected to start, which will only serve to frustrate and crowd out Camargo and Moffat. If FCD can take anything advice from Vancouver, who play a similar 4-2-3-1 formation, they will need to funnel play out to the wings quickly offensively to minimize turnovers against a capable Dynamo pair of center midfielders.
Dallas’ defense is the one aspect of the squad where stability, and in fact dominance was expected despite the multitude of injuries facing the side. The numbers speak for themselves, but once again, Zach Loyd put it simplest, which is most times best:
“I think the main thing as far as the back line goes is that we’ve given up way too many goals so far this season. So I think we need to really get on the same page and start getting some shutouts.”
Any further insights on defensive shape? Possible new formations? Tactical changes on the backline? A switch to man marking instead of zonal defending? New personnel to bolster the back line? No. It’s a simple solution in Zach’s eyes, and that is all it really needs to be. Let the numbers explain themselves: 24 goals against, and 15 of those were on the road. Given the lack of possession and little, to sometimes zero, pressure FCD has put upon opposing sides, it is no wonder Loyd and company have been shelled more than usual by their MLS counterparts.
That is not to say the defense hasn’t been culpable whatsoever. Recall Pertuz’s lack of pressure on Maicon Santos during the DC match, or even Loyd’s missed clearance in stoppage time at Salt Lake; those moments go without need for further detail. Fortunately goals have come nearly as rare for Houston this season, averaging only .08 more goals per match than their Texan rivals. A reversal of Dallas’ defensive fortunes will be key to a road win against a hostile opponent Saturday evening.
Overall, FCD can reverse a tumultuous beginning of the season with a result on Saturday. Being a weary and downtrodden (yet surprisingly optimistic) West Ham fan I’ve come accustomed to looking towards derby matches rather than the entire season. A win against Tottenham, despite losing 18 matches throughout the year, always made the year worth remembering. Dallas still has a season ahead of it, though. Nineteen matches still stand in the squad’s way. Should FCD conjure its inner 2011 Sporting Kansas City, or perhaps even its 2011 midseason (advance apologies for blaspheming) Dynamo, the squad could find itself well within the playoff picture soon enough.
Is this Hyndman’s Thermopylae? It is if you expect a small portion of the FCD squad to die under a hail of arrows. I’m not ruling it out. It cannot be ignored, however, that the chances of a rallying point for FCD have yet to be so reachable.
(image courtesy of fcdallas.com)