Head to Head is no longer a tie-breaker in the unbalanced league that is MLS. Wins are a tie-breaker, an important one. Seattle Sounders FC head into their first mid-week game with a chance to get two wins up on the second winningest team in the league. FC Dallas is on shorter rest than the Rave Green, have more injuries and a suspension to deal with when they take the field Wednesday at 7 PM.
Our guide to Three Questions is Brian from BigDSoccer. In some ways these are questions four through six.
SaH: Red cards seem to be an issue for Dallas this season. Are they playing too close to the edge or are these one-off events?
BDS: Some of these situations leading to the red card are dumber than others, but I'd say a good 50% of them are self imposed and completely avoidable. I think the only unlucky one-off would be the rescinded red card against Je-Vaughn Watson against Portland. On the other hand, this past week, Watson's challenge on Tim Cahill - I think Watson could have done anything to soften that landing and avoid kicking Cahill's cranberries. Another example during the previous week, Loyd managed two yellow cards in the first half, both of which seemed to be a result of him being out of position and trying to recover, albeit too aggressively; let's chalk that one up to a lack of fitness. Michel's red card, however, at the end of that same match against DC was baffling considering the game was already lost with less than 5 minutes to go till the whistle. That same situation, reversed, led to Hendry Thomas' red card at home to Chivas USA. Dallas was winning 3-1 with less than 2 minutes of stoppage time left to go, and Thomas flew in two-footed to earn a straight red.
Schellas Hyndman often spoke about emotional intelligence. The sensei is a 10th-degree black belt in karate and was around MLS long enough that you've probably seen this video of his demonstration of pain management ... via his own family jewels ... and the foot of a Dallas Cowboys punter. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45hWbIy5Fkk) Many of these red cards in 2014 were earned through rash tackles. Not having Hyndman's ultra disciplined guidance, I think that FC Dallas may be playing too close to the edge this year. Ultimately, though, I think it will be a temporary problem through the course of Oscar Pareja's tenure. I believe he has the wisdom to reel his guys back in.
SaH: Do we know anything about Pereja's use of squad rotation or will injury and suspension just force his hand?
BDS: We know that OP is not afraid to throw his rookies straight into the fire. We've had more Homegrown Players starting this season than in maybe any of the previous few since the HGP Rule was adopted. Hyndman favored a very slow, gradual introduction of the young players to MLS - often relegating them to reserve matches only. Oscar has already given Victor Ulloa, Moises Hernandez, and Danny Garcia their first professional starts in only 9 weeks at the helm.
Blas Perez did not play against Houston last month, and we were told afterwards that Oscar was concerned about Blas suffering from some minor muscle tightness. He opted to start David Texeira instead, citing the need to keep veterans like Blas fresh for the whole season rather than risk an injury. We've had direct quotes and visible decisions indicating OP believes in a healthy rotation of the roster. Unfortunately, red card suspensions and injuries have been taking the choice out of gameday selection a little bit, but expect to see OP get as many of our 30 players onto the pitch this season as possible.
SaH: How do these struggles compare to last year's collapse? From afar it looks to be a similar thing.
BDS: It's different so far, and North Texans are praying to any and all gods that it continues to remain different. Last year, the trap was laid by injuries to key players. Our coach at the time opted to play favored players out of position to fill those gaps, leading to a frustrating string of losses, hopelessly fatigued legs, and further injuries. This season, OP has been sidestepping absences with squad players and rookies. I've heard that his optimism is infecting the whole locker room, so when the kids are given their chance to shine, they are expected to step up and do the job.
We will know for sure once George John gets back on the field in these next couple of weeks and when we finally get an official timeline on Mauro Diaz's knee injury. No one is hiding from the parallels to last season. The team is better prepared this year to avoid those same pitfalls, and OP is under immense pressure not to repeat that train wreck.
Significant Absences: Mauro Diaz (unspecified knee), Je-Vaughn Watson (red card), George John (knee), Andres Escobar (back), Kellyn Acosta (knee)
Projected Lineup: Fernandez, Benitez, Hedges, Keel, Loyd, Thomas, Michel, Castillo, Garcia, Jacobson, Perez
BDS: Seattle is flying high at the top of the table, but it hasn't come easy. The Sounders top the stat chart for a worrying category: fouls suffered. Is this a product of opponents' inability to stop Seattle's skill-set or something else? Is there one player absorbing the brunt of these fouls?
SaH: When Seattle isn't getting fouled they are putting up goals in a beautiful, free-flowing fashion. Just look at that Rapids game for a prime example. Other teams took a more cynical view and beat the crap out of the skill players, particularly Oba and Clint. Then they mostly lost due to free kick magic. With Dempsey and Marshall (this week Scott also likely) on the end of service goals will still come. As long as the goals come from stoppages fouling is not going to be the path to stopping Sounders FC. It will take something different. TFC and the Crew counted on dumb errors from the Rave Green.
BDS: Last month when these two teams met, one of the only 1-v-1 battles where Dallas had teeth was in Fabian Castillo and DeAndre Yedlin. USMNT talk is high on Yedlin. How does the young defender improve upon his last performance and contain Castillo this week?
SaH: I think this comes down to the simple fact that this is one of the few players where Yedlin will have learned that he can't just use speed to catch him. That means DeAndre will have to use a bit more body, get forward a touch less and communicate with Alonso/Marshall to provide quicker support. There may also be a few professional fouls on breakaways. But with Dallas being great at set-piece scoring those need to be about 40 yards out or more.
A lot of fans think that Yedlin is regularly out of position, but the indications from Sigi and Jurgen are that just isn't true. If he was Schmid wouldn't play him constantly and Klinsmann would not be looking at him on the senior team rather than the U21s. People seem to only remember Yedlin's errors, and many of those are from this time last year. His reputation on the team is no longer as a weak defender that has great speed, but a pretty good defender who continues to get better.
BDS: With a weakened Dallas team making the long trek to Cascadia, who is a player that FCD fans may not be aware of that could cause considerable damage for the Sounders this week?
SaH: It is quite likely that Seattle will be starting a third choice left back. Remick is certainly out and Leo Gonzalez is probably out. That leaves one of Brad Evans, Michael Azira or Zack Scott as the starter. Brad is a RM, CM, RB. Azira is a CDM, RB. Scott is a CB, RB, LB in that order. So not only is it a third choice starter for the team it is someone who isn't normally a left back.
My prediction is that it is Scott that starts. He helps significantly in set-piece defense and attack, which is needed. He's also one of the oldest players on the team who needs to make up for a lack of speed through body contact and his wits. When younger he earned the Sounder at Heart nickname of Zach Scott: Man Marker when he shut down Seb Le Toux, Brad Davis and Brek Shea in the first couple months of 2010. We hear that Shea even left MLS rather than face Scott again.
If Dallas flips Castillo over to go at Scott it will be a contest in divergent styles. Scott may give up chances when that happens. He'll also frustrate Fabian with things that ride the edge of the Laws.
Same drill with absences and lineup.
Absences: Remick (ankle), Gonzalez (hamstring)
Projected Lineup: Frei; Scott, Traore, Marshall, Yedlin; Evans, Pineda, Alonso, Pappa; Dempsey, Martins
This is the hardest lineup to project to date, but Seattle is at home against a West rival. They probably rest more players against New England on Sunday.