On Wednesday we face the first repeat opponent of the 2014 season, as FC Dallas comes to CenturyLink field hoping for a better result than the 3-2 win the Sounders earned in Frisco. So, is the last scouting report still applicable? Surprisingly, quite a bit has changed in just a month.
When last they faced the Sounders, FC Dallas was on top of the Supporters Shield standings and led the league in goals scored. We noted at the time that their scoring rate was kind of absurd, given that they had the fewest shots per game in the league. And in fact their overall success was kind of unlikely, given how they were playing overall. So how have they done since then? Not well, gentle reader. Counting the loss to the Sounders, they've lost 3 of their last 4.
It doesn't help that in two of those four they lost a player to a red card in the first half. Last weekend it was Je-Vaughn Watson, who was ejected in the 10th minute for cleating Tim Cahill in the cranberries. It also doesn't help that playmaker Mauro Diaz — the spark plug who's looked by far their best player this season — is out with a mysterious injury that'll sideline him anywhere from one game to the rest of the season, depending on whose leaks you believe.
|Michel||If Castillo can't get anything going, the offense is pretty much Michel's dead ball deliveries.|
|Fabian Castillo||One of the fastest players in the league at left wing. Doesn't always make good decisions when he gets to the end line, but he can cause problems.|
|Blas Perez||A quiet year so far from the Panamanian forward, but he'll be the primary target on any set pieces.|
Without Diaz to create chances in the run of play, and without Watson as a speedy option on the right wing, Dallas will no doubt be doubling down on their reliance on set pieces for offense. They were already the most set-piece reliant team in the league, and perhaps it's not a coincidence that the only game they've been shut out this season was the one for which their set-piece specialist Michel was suspended. And the mirror of their desire to get free kicks is their apparent keen desire to give them up. Seattle's brief era of playing against teams who don't want to get stuck in is over. San Jose has a rep for playing thugball, but Dallas are at least their equals. They lead the league in red cards and in yellow cards and are second in fouls only to Chivas, featuring foul-wunderkind August Pelletieri.
So we can expect Michel to play, which is an interesting conundrum for head coach Oscar Pareja, because Michel has a lot of weaknesses. He's not a very good defender or a particularly good passer in the run of play, so he's basically being hidden in a defensive midfield partnership with actual defensive midfielder Hendry Thomas. Thomas is a hard-tackling reducer and he's going to kick the crap out of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins as much as the ref will let him get away with.
Even with the two defensive midfielders, the defense has been very porous. They've given up 15 goals, tied for second in the league with Portland. So almost the entire defense is being rebuilt. Chris Seitz, who seemed to have been playing well in goal, was replaced with Raul Fernandez. Center-back Stephen Keel was replaced with second-year player Walker Zimmerman. And right back Kellyn Acosta is out with a long term injury rather than poor play, but has a ready replacement in Zach Loyd. That leaves only Matt Hedges and venerable left back Jair Benitez as regular starters.
With Diaz out they've played young Danny Garcia as the CAM in the 4-2-3-1, which is asking a lot of a young player. He'll be providing to Fabian Castillo on the left. It's notable that DeAndre Yedlin's season started off very promising before hitting the rails a bit when he ran into three very good left wingers in a row in Darlington Nagbe, Castillo, and Leandro Barrera. There's a lot of argument about whether it's his fault or the fault of the defense that's supposed to be covering for his runs forward, but in either case fast forwards are getting some joy attacking the space behind the Sounders right back.
If Seattle can bottle up Castillo, and if Chad Marshall can continue to dominate the air on Michel's dead ball deliveries, most of the Dallas offense should be under control. Even in Dallas playing with Diaz the only goals they could muster against Seattle were a very silly wind-aided bounce over Stefan Frei and a penalty. And now they'll be playing three days after their last game after a long flight to Seattle without their most important playmaker and one of their leading scorers.
At the other end, the Sounders clearly have the skill and the confidence to overwhelm a Dallas defense that's already reeling. Michel's defense is, as I've said, unimpressive. Thomas will be left to snuff out the attacks up the gut that Seattle has relentlessly deployed over the last month. The game may come down to what referee Baldomero Toledo will allow. He has a reputation for being card-happy, and in this case that's almost certainly in Seattle's favor against a team that will need to be physical and already has shown a penchant for getting players ejected.