On the same weekend in late April, both the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas lost critical members of their offense to bonebreaking tackles. The Steve Zakuani loss got more attention outside of Dallas due to the cynicism of the tackle and the graphic injury, but Dallas lost the MLS MVP in David Ferreira. And both teams are operating with even more of their 2010 offense missing. Seattle is still dealing with the sudden departure of Blaise Nkufo and the mounting injuries to O'Brian White, Nate Jaqua, Fredy Montero, and Mauro Rosales. But while the Sounders' offensive losses are mostly due to bad luck, Dallas has chosen to dispense with theirs. Dax McCarty, Atiba Harris, and Jeff Cunningham were all allowed to leave in the offseason — to be replaced with only Fabian Castillo in the offensive end — while Brek Shea was transformed from a left winger into a center back.
With the loss of Ferreira the Shea to defender experiment seems to be over, but otherwise the changes haven't dimmed FC Dallas significantly. After a very slow start to the season the team seems to have rebounded tremendously from the Ferreira injury and now is unbeaten in six matches, including four wins. While it's too early yet to apply the Ewing Theory, it's clear that FC Dallas has retained the ability to score in front of their consistently good defense.
That ability to score is predicated on speed. FC Dallas were a counterattacking team last year built on Ferreira's ability to distribute on the break, but if anything they're even more of a countering team this season. Both Castillo and Marvin Chavez are blazing fast forwards and Shea has dangerous pace on the left wing.
The rest of the midfield is anchored by Daniel Hernandez, who plays holding mid, team captain, and enforcer. His presence is a strong argument to try to attack through the wings rather than through the middle.
The Sounders, for their part, are going to roll out another patchwork offense. One lineup option is what we saw this weekend versus Kansas City, except with an apparently healthy Friberg replacing Servando Carrasco at right midfield. Carrasco isn't really a wide midfielder and his unfamiliarity with the role was obvious through Saturday's match. Friberg should be a significant upgrade there, but otherwise it's a lineup that was only able to score a single goal at home in injury time against one of the worst defenses in the league.
The other option is a return to the Bucket. Last season the Sounders routinely played with two holding midfielders, with Osvaldo Alonso playing alongside either Nathan Sturgis or Pete Vagenas. It made some sense (even though I didn't like it) given how offensively minded the two forwards and both wingers were. Without Zakuani and with Brad Evans occasionally healthy, Sigi has moved towards a more box-to-box role with the second midfielder. And last weekend he even played Rosales as a CAM. While that's an improvement aesthetically, FC Dallas' ability to counterattack might be a good argument for going back to two defensive midfielders in the middle. We saw the Carrasco/Alonso pairing against Portland and Columbus with mixed results, but if the two can play better together, it might be the best way to slow down the Dallas attack.
- Shea vs James Riley - The fullbacks have been tasked with pushing forward more in the new diamond formation and if Sigi wants to continue to play with the right mid tucked in, Riley will have to temper his offensive responsibilities with the danger of Brek Shea, who's fast, much taller than the Sounders' right back, and has a magical ability to turn crosses into goals.
- Rosales vs Hernandez - Last match's experiment in playing a CAM alongside Fredy Montero wasn't a stunning success. Montero's never really played well with a CAM, going all the way back to the Freddie Ljungberg days. Whether that's an intrinsic part of his game or whether we just haven't found the right CAM yet, it's an issue Seattle will have to overcome if they want to continue to play Rosales in that role. If he is able to make any offensive contributions from the middle, it will have to be through or around Hernandez, who runs their defensive midfield nearly as well as Alonso runs ours.
- Alonso vs the Dallas counterattack - Seattle has shown an unfortunate tendency to give away passes in the midfield this season. And against FC Dallas those turnovers will turn into stampeding runs by Castillo and Chavez. Alonso will have to be the one to stop or at least slow those runs, or they will overwhelm the Sounders defense.