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Keys to Beating the Cunningham Effect

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If form matters, then Dallas is the one team that the Sounders don't want to face. Since September 1st they earned 16 points, best in the league. Sounders though are tied for 3rd with 10 points over that same stretch. Much of their success has been credited to one Jeff Cunningham, who must now be the favorite to win the MLS MVP.

The Jamaican/American National player leads the league with 17 goals and fuels the most potent offense in the league. Sixteen of those goals are since becoming a starter right about at the mid-point of the season. He also has 8 assists on the season, and is the most potent player by PP90 in the league. FC Dallas is first in goals, in assists, 2nd in shots and shots on goal. The offense has 49 goals on the season, on a team that lost the second best goal scorer from 2008.

How do the Sounders stop the offensive and form juggernaut?

Complete Defense - Hurtado - Ride the wave

Complete Defense

This is the understanding that Dallas is more than just Cunningham. They have shifted from a 4-1-3-2, to a 4-1-4-1 and now to a 4-1-3-1-1. That final shift may have as much to influence the success of the surging club as anything as it changed Dax McCarty from deep-lying-playmaker to a box-to-box midfielder. The shifts though are larger as FC Dallas blogger extraordinaire Buzz Carrick wrote to me via email interview.

Cunningham scoring goals is a part of the FCD progression, but Cunningham(as do I) gives a lot of credit to David Ferreira. The offense is clicking as a group, it's not just Cunningham. Cunningham works hard, creates space,and scored goals; but Ferreira is driving the bus.

The revamped defense is also a big part of it. Not just the new back line of Benitez, Ihemelu, John, and Pearce; but the move to put a pure defensive midfielder (Daniel Hernandez) in the hole and allow Dax McCarty greater freedom to get forward and combine.

Dax was playing out of position as the deep player and while he had a wonderful year, he didn't quite have the discipline to stay home all the time. Daniel Hernandez does. These days Dax is a two way linking midfielder between Hernandez and the deep lying 2nd striker that is Ferreira.

You can look at Buzz' expected formation here. You'll notice that the two wing players are yet to be mentioned. Dave van den Bergh may be the best Left Mid in the league. He plays solid defense, had helped spark Red Bull to the Final last year, and has 11 assists for second in the league. Whether via the booming cross, the skillful corner or the deft pass, he puts the ball where his striker can nail it.

His right wing partner is all grit. Attiba Harris helped Chivas USA to two victories over the Sounders. Harris is 2nd in fouls committed, and earns his Cards and Ejections. But, like Dallas, Harris should not be underestimated. He has 3 goals and 7 assists on the season. This team is much more than Jeff Cunningham, to focus merely on him is to ignore the depth of the offense and to leave the Sounders open the result that Colorado got. A 2-1 loss where Cunningham failed to score or assist.

Hurtado

This doesn't mean to ignore Cunningham. He is so potent, scoring through the air, from long and short range. He must be controlled, and not necessarily by an aerial winner. While Tyrone Marshall may have more experience, it is the speed of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado that will be key in the matchup between stars.

Hurtado's lateral quickness will be needed to control the likely league MVP. He is also able to move further up from goal, separating himself from his defense, and leaving Marshall back as a safety. This more cautious approach is similar to what the Sounders did to Juan Pablo Angel. It also allows the central midfield to enter the offense a little bit.

Ride the wave

Not just the wave of emotion from the final home game of a brilliant first season, but also the offensive wave of attack. Emotions should be as charged as any likely only matching the opening game of the season. There will be 32,000+ fans that expect the Sounders to force their will on the Western Conference and pick up one of the top two seeds.

But offensively, the Sounders need to batter the Dallas keeper. Dallas gives up almost 5 shots on goal a game, and over a goal gets tallied by their opponent. So the Sounders offense needs to capitalize on their great passing and get Montero, Ljungberg, Zakuani and Jaqua shots. Lots of shots, waves of offense, overlapping wingbacks, runs from deep by Alonso. Full powered and the effective team that had what I thought would be a top five offense in the league.

Yes, you just read Jaqua. Yes, I expect him back at the right midfield. Part of that is because with him on the pitch the Sounders are one of the better teams at corner success, but another part is because a team with offensive issues should not bench one of their top 3 offensive talents. That, and he has to learn how to play that position before the MLS Cup Playoffs start. Sure, we are likely to see both Le Toux and Levesque in the 2nd Half. Roger has earned it, and Seba needs to return to form.

Notes

In the 9th Minute we will be raising the #9 in support of Charlie Davies. His loss was not the greatest in that tragic accident. Ashley J. Roberta's family has the hardest time. They are and will be dealing with her loss forever.

It is fan appreciation night. Show up early, and stay late. The March to the Match will be the best yet. There will be a display for the season ticket holders, and other surprises throughout the evening.

Expect a wide open game. Dallas is basically in a must win and Seattle has a chance at the #1 seed.

George John, welcome home. May you lose.

Hopefully next year we find that every match on the final weekend of the year starts at 7PM EDT. It is the fair and sporting thing to do.

Lastly, Drew Carey was on a channel that even fewer people watch than FSC.