FC Dallas is good. Nine matches since their last loss power them to a best in MLS 24 points. They aren't great on the road though, merely average. They do some intriguing things with big forwards by playing them wide and they took a fullback and converted him to a D Mid. This will be a tough test for the recovering Sounders. But there is a decent streak here as well - five matches unbeaten and four straight with a goal or more for Seattle. If there can be a signature win in the early season this has the makings for both sides.
Previewing the match via Three Questions is Brian from Big D Soccer.
SaH: Getting Perez, Cooper and Hassli on the pitch at the same time seems to require some sort of formation origami. How does it work?
BDS: It works by giving up a couple midfielders from FCD's recent tradition of employing a 4-2-3-1. Cooper tends to go wide right while Hassli goes left and Perez stays more central. However, each of them have the room to roam. FCD has seen a bit of success with this but only time will tell how much production the club can get out of this arrangement. All three forwards have small similarities but also some differing strengths that gives the striker stable a versatile toolbox. For instance, you will see Cooper holding the ball as Blas and Eric rush forward, but Eric will also use his size. Blas has that persistent energy, constantly buzzing the defense and goalkeeper. Cooper runs a lot also, but he is slower and goes at defenders head on with his skilled footwork rather than around them. I expect we will see these three on the field together more going forward as Hassli approaches full fitness.
SaH: Michel's conversion to a defensive mid seems to have sparked a lot of the success for FCD. What's his growth in that role been like?
BDS: The transition to midfield has been great for Michel and the squad. I think he was originally brought in to the team to provide depth at fullback; however the team was in greater need for a pairing midfielder with Andrew Jacobson earlier this season. Hyndman tried a few things, and Michel seems to fill all those gaps. His accuracy on set pieces has been a wonderful improvement, and he seems to flourish when he can go both directions to battle for midfield balls. This area of the field has been in transition for FCD since losing Daniel Hernandez. Michel has been a welcome surprise.
SaH: Is the slightly below average road record a product of opponents or is Hyndman just more cautious when traveling?
BDS: It is still a bit of the unknown this season. FCD's only loss so far came at the hands of Chivas USA on their turf, but the team has yet to make visits to most of the league heavy weights so far. The match at Seattle this weekend will be one of the first big tests to Dallas' staying power to hold on to first place. FCD has done very well at home so far and scored a good amount of goals. I think Hyndman will aim to maintain the unbeaten streak, so we will likely see more defensive tactics unless Dallas is able to build a safety cushion early on.
George John and Andrew Jacobson are both listed as questionable this week. David Ferreira was held out of the DC match as a precaution. I expect we could see AJ but probably not John. David will want to get on the field, whether he should or not, will depend on how he is physically feeling.
John did not travel.
Fernandez; Loyd, Hedges, Woodberry, Benitez; Jacobson, Michel; Jackson, Ferreira, Cooper; Perez
BDS: We recently saw Obafemi Martins score his second MLS goal. How is he adjusting to the league and the Sounders?
SaH: That's still a great unknown. He's poached a couple of goals now so his positioning, preparedness and potency are obvious. What he has not yet done is get an extended time training with the club. This week will be the first time with that. For all the failures and successes of this young season the team will almost certainly start their 14th lineup in 14 competitive matches. That being the case it is very difficult to know how good Oba will be when he gets extended time with the team, because Seattle will be losing strike partner Eddie Johnson in a couple weeks to US National Team duty.
BDS: Seattle, against all predictions, started 2013 in poor form and reached almost all the way to the cellar. The club seems to be rounding the corner now; what was the key to returning the Sounders to power?
SaH: The primary things was finishing. They finally started doing it at a league average rate and goals started showing up on the scoreboard. A large part of that is the play of Lamar Neagle. Sigi may finally have the 3rd forward he's wanted. His ability to slot into the lineup to pester opposing defenses is fairly obvious, but he's also adding a bit of a scoring touch and will challenge to be the third scorer on the team.
Sigi also went to an asymmetrical midfield. That change has improved the defense - an already stingy defense. It is a departure for the club from traditional roles, but is leading to more attacks by fullbacks, more cover in the midfield and still setting up the forward in positions to score. Seattle has not lost since they switched to this against New England.
BDS: Do you think the Sounders will make another deep run into the US Open Cup? How will the format changes impact the team?
SaH: Seattle still has a deep enough bench that Sammy Ochoa is the fifth or sixth forward now. Shalrie Joseph is playing decently, but not always a starter. Steve Zakuani is the second best winger on the team. Olympic star Mario Martinez is capable of taking over games and yet is just a bench option. The team still has depth to compete in the early rounds and wants to be back in Champions League in a big way. USOC100 is a way to get there and they will try that map again. As for the format? Seattle won their first Cup on the road at DC. They drew and advanced against Portland and drew but lost against Sporting. The road may be tougher, but they still have yet to record an official loss in the Sounders MLS era Open Cup matches.
Mauro Rosales injured his shoulder, but should be good to go. Steve Zakuani is still recovering from a groin strain.
Gspurning; Gonzalez, Traore, Hurtado, Yedlin; Carrasco, Evans, Alonso, Rosales; Neagle, Johnson