Thearon W. Henderson
Sunday's 6 PM ESPN game is Fan Appreciation Day, the penultimate match of the regular season and a chance for the Seattle Sounders to make a late charge up the standings.
FC Dallas has the seventh worst road record in the league, but they are a team that has split halves. In the first 17 matches they were one of the worst of MLS. As they've returned to health they are a mid-table quality team that will be coming to Seattle with a tiny chance at the MLS Cup Playoffs (though at the whistle they will know if those chances remain). Seattle Sounders FC will look to build on its shut-out streak and integrating their international absences to score a goal or two or three on their way back to the second spot in the West.
Joining Sounder at Heart for Three Questions is Daniel from Big D Soccer.
SaH: Matt Hedges has been the stable force at centerback for FC Dallas. How much has he meant to the club considering the losses of John and Ihemelu?
BDS: It's pretty crazy to think about, but the case could be made that Matt Hedges is the FC Dallas MVP this season. He's certainly the defensive MVP as Hedges stepped in once Ugo Ihemelu went down with concussion that he still hasn't returned from. The big defender is actually very similar to George John in playing style as he provides a tall and commanding presence in the middle.
Paired with John, the duo is one that is almost impossible to beat in the air while they've shown a level of communication from day one that has allowed them to snuff out most things in the ground. It really is a shame that John has been out with an ankle injury suffered in the win over Vancouver two games ago that has kept him out for this road trip. There is no doubt in my mind that Dallas would have won the 3-3 draw at San Jose if John was in there rather than the smaller and more finesse-type defender of Hernan Pertuz.
Depending on if Dallas re-signs John in the offseason, the huge duo could be a twin towers defense that does very very well in MLS next year.
SaH: Any ideas why Brek Shea has struggled this season?
BDS: It's just one of those years for Brek. The big Texan never really had an off-season between his training stint at Arsenal which basically went into USMNT January camp which became FCD pre-season which became U23 Olympic Qualifying and you get the idea. The biggest thing, which is not really mentioned all that much, is that Shea suffered a turf toe in April in Vancouver that has really hobbled him much more than he let on.
Shea probably returned to the field a bit too quickly from the injury and, as he and his coach have said, has been running in a different style this year that has caused other parts of his body to get hurt as he compensates for the bum toe. The very publicized bust up with Hyndman was really just the tip of the iceberg of everything that has been bothering Shea. The talent is still there, however, and a long, restful off-season combined with a pre-season where he can ease into things should really allow for Brek to return to form in 2013 as he's unlikely to play again this year barring a deep playoff run.
SaH: De Guzman had a resurgence with Dallas. Who will be his partner in the more defensive center mid this week and how will that change the system?
BDS: Well De Guzman is actually suspended on yellow card accumulation this weekend so Daniel Hernandez, Seattle's favorite FC Dallas player, will be starting in his spot. The central midfield system for Dallas won't change as you'll have Hernandez at defensive midfield with Andrew Jacobson playing in front of him and David Ferreira at the top of the trio.
I actually think Hernandez returning to the starting lineup, while he doesn't have the mobility or passing range of De Guzman, could provide a lift to the Dallas squad as Daniel is still the emotional leader of this team and could provide a big boost if Dallas heads into this one needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Projected Lineup 4-1-4-1: Hartman; Benitez - Hedges - Pertuz - Loyd; D. Hernandez - Castillo - Jacobson - Villar - Ferreira; Perez
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BDS: How does the Zach Scott suspension affect Seattle and what is the overall state of their back line?
SaH: The situation at right back will be much better as Swedish international Adam Johansson will play. He is a key element to the offense with a strong cross and good runs down the flank. Johansson also has an understanding with Mauro Rosales that helps the Argentine play effectively.
It is at centerback where there are questions. If neither Patrick Ianni nor Jhon Kennedy Hurtado can play due to their injuries Seattle may be forced to start Brad Evans there. His recent performances there are decent, but neither were starts. Where he would be likely to struggle the most is in communicating needs for help when his zone is flooded.
BDS: Do you anticipate Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero link back up in the starting lineup on Sunday and what has made them such a dynamic duo?
SaH: Absolutely. After Eddie Johnson's strong performances with the United States he's back in Seattle and ready to rejoin with Montero. While they don't have the numbers of Wondo and whoever you think their second best forward is over in San Jose, they are as good as any other forward pairing in the league. They don't directly combine often, but how they use the space the other offers means that either EJ will be one-on-one at the end of a cross or Montero will be free from 15-20 yards out.
There is no better header of the ball in the history of MLS - not McBride, nor Casey, nor Ching. So getting the GAM in space where he can do that can crush teams. But if the two CBs suck back onto him there's just one of the best shots from distance in 2012. Dallas has the defensive mids to drop back and help, so in the end it may come down to Seattle's flank play.
BDS: This game is big for both sides for much different reasons. What makes this game important for Seattle with the playoffs already locked up?
SaH: While the Sounders are in the second season there are three reasons for them to push for maximum points. First, they have a strong shot at 2nd in the West which would give them a slight advantage over Salt Lake. With the change to how the MLS Cup is awarded finishing with 59 points would put them ahead of most of the East so there would be a chance at another 60,000+ crowd in Seattle. Third, there is still a chance that Seattle backs into the 2013/14 CONCACAF Champions League. Playing in that tournament has helped convince several quality players to join the Rave Green and is the path to the organization's ultimate goal - success in the Club World Cup.
Projected Lineup: Gspurning;
Gonzalez Burch, Evans, Parke, Johansson; Alonso; Martinez, Tiffert, Rosales; Montero, Johnson
If either of the injured CBs can go Evans would be at left mid. That position could also see Tiffert (Rose at CM), Zakuani, Estrada or Caskey.