Last season, both the Montreal Impact and FC Dallas raced out to early leads built on fantastic early season results, with both teams holding onto or competing for the Supporters Shield lead well through the first half of the season. But then they held a mini-competition for which team could collapse the furthest, with Dallas narrowly winning out thanks to not making the playoffs at all, while the Impact managed to flame out epically in the first round. Many pixels were spilt speculating about just what went wrong — was it the age of the players, untimely injuries, the weather? But the most likely answer is just that they were never that good. You can have a run of very good results in MLS even if you're not a very good team. San Jose had a better second half than Dallas' first half, but nobody noticed, because they were never in a Supporters Shield position.
It's apparently Groundhog Day and once again we wake up to Dallas at the top of the standings, undefeated in their first five. So is that standing built on a better foundation this time? Their goal-scoring rate certainly looks impressive:
That's a little crazy. Their 13 goals is nearly half again as many as the team in second. They have more than twice as many goals as 10 of the 19 MLS teams. Surely an offense that prolific must be cracking out a huge number of shots.
|Rank||Team||Shots / Game|
U wot m8? To have such a massive lead in goals scored while taking so few shots per game is incredibly unlikely. Has new head coach Oscar Pareja cracked the code for more efficient shooting? If he has, it's a new discovery. His Colorado team last year was 5th in the league in shots but was below average in goals. Dallas has earned (and converted) 2 penalties already this season, and those have a high success rate. But even if you take those out, they've scored 11 goals in 44 shots, for a very tidy 25% strike rate, which is totally unsustainable. That doesn't mean they're not a dangerous team, of course. Just that we shouldn't be drawing too many conclusions after five games.
Tactically, Dallas is set up to counter and attack on the wings. In their last match they were up a player against a Houston for most of the game, so it's hard to learn much from that one. But their previous match was against Portland at home, and they conceded a massive amount of possession. The Timbers like to keep possession anyway, but even at home Dallas was willing to drop deep and try to hit on the counter.
|Mauro Diaz||The next in a gauntlet of strong central playmakers Seattle faces, after Bradley, Valeri, and Higuain.|
|Michel||Sometimes a liability in the run of play, but competes with Brad Davis to be the best dead-ball specialist in the league.|
|Fabian Castillo||His speed on the left is the primary offensive threat for Dallas.|
That attack comes through two fast wingers: Fabian Castillo on the left and Je-Vaughn Watson on the right, backed up by a pair of pretty fast fullbacks in Jair Benitez and Homegrown right back Kellyn Acosta. In the middle they're using a back line of (onetime USL Sounder) Stephen Keel and Matt Hedges with George John out injured. That isn't a particular strong defensive force, so it's defended by a pair of holding midfielders, which are draw from a rotating cast. Currently it looks like the favorites are dead-ball specialist Michel and Hendry Thomas. Of the two, Thomas is actually the defensive midfielder, while Michel isn't as defensively stout and is more of a deep-lying playmaker.
They sit behind the player most likely to make a difference for Dallas this year: young playmaker Mauro Diaz, who joined the team late last season. He already has two goals and three assists this season and is Dallas' primary outlet for generating some kind of attack other than bombs down the flanks and Michel's set piece deliveries. And the final piece is Panamanian striker Blas Perez, who's a lumbering target in the box for dead balls and crosses.
Seattle comes in with as strong a lineup as they've started all season, even with Brad Evans still out with a calf injury. Both Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey are fit to continue the offensive fireworks show they started in Portland last week. And Dallas' defense is thin enough that they should find plenty of open space. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Toros to go to the hack-a-Clint startegy as early and often as the ref will allow.
Dallas' speed on the left side should be somewhat negated by DeAndre Yedlin's pace. He's probably the only fullback in the league who can match Castillo step-for-step, which reduces the need for double-teams on that side of the field. And that could free up Osvaldo Alonso to mark Diaz out of the game.
In fact, Seattle might have not enough to do in the middle of the field. The 4-2-3-1 looked very good in the second half in Portland, but against the Timbers they needed it to control the overloads in the middle of the park. With Dallas so focused on the flanks, a defensive midfield of Alonso and Pineda may be wasted. . at least defensively. Offensively, I could easily see it freeing Pineda to wander up and play playmaker in the Dallas end.
Another key will be handling set pieces. Michel is great at delivering them and Perez is pretty good at finishing them. Chad Marshall is a titanic strength here and as long as he doesn't get picked, he should maintain air superiority in the 6 yard box.
Overall, this is a road game I feel good about. I think our team will be near full potency, our strengths match up well with Dallas' weaknesses, and they may start to believe the hype that has them as major contenders despite getting fewer shots off than Chivas.