At one point the path to Western Conference victory was assumed to include FC Dallas. Their slow start puts the Toros in 6th, but their struggles are deeper than the 12 points in 10 played indicate. Similar to the Seattle Sounders, Dallas lost a player to injury last year. David Ferriera is still out after his ankle injury last year. There was drama about where George John would play. That question weakened the defense to start 2012.
Now in a key Western Conference matchup they are without Blas Perez and Daniel Hernandez. Both players were sent off in Dallas' loss to Colorado Sunday night. This also threw off Schellas Hyndman's substitution pattern. Several players just coming back to regular use went an unplanned 90. In a short turnaround to gametime Seattle will have the edge in fitness, even after the travel.
Helping us discover what makes FC Dallas tick is Daniel from Big D Soccer.
SaH: Now that the drama about George John has faded into the background is FC Dallas' defense better for him getting regular playing time?
BigD: George is definitely getting back to the level that had him mentioned in the elite echelon of MLS center backs. It’s been a rocky 12 months for the Washington Husky graduate who obviously was looking to make a move to England and finally did this winter with West Ham, but things didn’t really go as planned with John not even making one first team appearance.
Coming back to FC Dallas on the week that the season started, he had to earn his starting spot back and he’s definitely done so in the last 6 weeks. He was probably the best player on the pitch last week in Los Angeles and anchored the FC Dallas defense that held strong with 9 men for much of the game against Colorado only conceding two goals in nearly an hour of play after the red cards.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how the John situation is handled this off-season and just how much FC Dallas will offer him. *shameless plug* Jeremiah and I go into great detail about the GJ situation in the Nos Audietis podcast this week including a scenario where he could end up in Seattle.
SaH: Dallas has a largish batch of HGPs on the roster. I'm counting Levya, Luna, Sanchez and Top and probably missing a few. How many of these are contributing to the First Team from the quality of their play?
BigD: They’ve all kind of had their little runs. Leyva started two games earlier this season while Shea was gone, but a twisted ankle slowed his progress a few weeks ago. Top, who could be the starting forward for the US U20 world cup team in 2013, has enjoyed a breakout 2012 that saw him make his MLS debut a couple weeks ago, and I could certainly see him making the bench on Wednesday with Blas Perez out.
Richard Sanchez, who won the U17 World cup with Mexico last year goalkeeping the final in front of over 100,000 people at Estadio Azteca, was called the best goalkeeper for his age that Schellas Hyndman has ever seen. For a guy that’s been scouting 17 year olds in the college game for 30 years, that’s pretty high praise. Sanchez trained for a week at Chelsea in April and while he’s simply too young to realistically compete in MLS at this point, you wonder if Dallas is going to sell the kid for a nice price before he ever plays an MLS game. Ruben Luna has been up and down in 2012, but he scored a brace in the reserve game at Kansas City last week and is the most likely HG to play on Wednesday as the first forward substitute option off the bench.
SaH: With Blas Perez out with a Red who plays up top? How does that change the 4-1-4-1?
BigD: It’s very tough to know exactly with only one real practice before the game, but I’d anticipate FC Dallas to move to the 4-4-2 that they played against Real Salt Lake, the other game that Blas Perez missed. It had Scott Sealy and Fabian Castillo up top, Sealy the guy who holds the ball up better while Castillo is the speedster that is capable of the spectacular, but also makes plays that make you want to pull your hair out. We all remind ourselves on a daily basis that Castillo is still just 19. The biggest problem with the 4-4-2 is you have Andrew Jacobson and probably James Marcelin for this match in the middle with Daniel Hernandez out. That central midfield combination, while solid defensively, presents a huge hole right in the spot where a #10 would traditionally sit. I worry that Ozzie Alonso will have a field day to move up the pitch and get involved in the attack as the midfield will be keying on Rosales.
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BigD: Just one goal allowed in the last 5 games for Seattle. What has been the key to the defensive success and where do you see their weakness?
SaH: Besides having the best defensive midfielder in the league in Osvaldo Alonso Sigi Schmid may be using the rotation of defenders in order to maximize their efficiency and drive. With Alonso Seattle has a premier tackler as well as interceptor. He covers ground so well. Even though he gets into the attack more this season than years past, you won't really notice openings upfield, unless they are driven balls low to the ground. A lofted attempt to get passed him is often slow enough to allow the shape to be maintained.
Along the backline the mix is deep. In that depth Schmid can pick which style of players fit best tactically - say Zach Scott against Brek Shea. With seven players capable of starting for a majority of games on a majority of teams, yes, even Scott, some could worry about players getting out of sorts. Each is driven to perform at their peak or lose a starting spot. With an abundance of games in the month (and the season) all will play, while scraping their way to being the best defensive side the Sounders have yet to put forward. Now they are even succeeding with the "4th" keeper on the team.
Bryan Meredith was drafted 29th in 2011. He was beaten out by latter pick Josh Ford. By the end of 2011 he was a key piece of the Kitsap Pumas PDL championship team. Injuries to Ford and Terry Boss meant that he earned a start in the CCL Group Stage. Injuries to Gspurning, Andrew Weber and Ford mean that he'll start again.
If you want to break the defense I would go with quick flank counters and low entry balls that force Meredith to react. That might work, but at this point nothing really is for the opposition.
BigD: What is the status of Mauro Rosales for Wednesday’s game? Do you anticipate that he starts again and how does the team change when he’s out there? I certainly remember his game-winner in Frisco last year.
SaH: Rosales is a bit iffy, but entirely because of the two match week, after a two match week. If this was a one off he could probably play through the pain in his bruised ankle. The Sounders may be deep enough to not start him, nor Alvaro Fernandez. Fans would be more confident if at least one takes the pitch against Dallas. Seattle is a much different team with Mauro on the field. If he starts, he certainly won't finish the match.
BigD: How has our old buddy Eddie Johnson got on with the Sounders since joining them this pre-season? Is he a guy that could pop up and score the winner tomorrow?
SaH: EJ will start. He was rested against Philly as he's still getting to a fitness level where he can play as much as Seattle's May (8 games in total, 9 in 32 days) require. His ball work and physique are still what a Dallas or KC fan would expect, but those aren't where he's getting his goals. His first in Rave Green was a classic poached goal and his second was a simple read of centerbacks and knowledge that Rosales could hit the perfect cross. EJ's flair may be fun to watch, but what will make him special in Seattle will be his ability to mesh tactically with Montero and Rosales. If he does that he'll notch at least 10 goals on the season and be on the short list as a Comeback Player of the Year.
BigD: Bonus!: Tell us about a Sounders player that we may not know who could make a big impact on Wednesday.
SaH: Alex Caskey - he's been used as a right mid and left mid, occupying spaces similar to Lamar Neagle in 2011. His dead ball service is quite good and he'll shoot from distance generally on frame. Caskey is energetic pursuing turnovers and trying to create a new opportunity for Seattle. His positioning isn't the strongest, but he can cause enough trouble for a player drafted 47th and then developed down in the USL Pro with the Charleston Battery.