FC Dallas is fresher, faster, and the #1 team in the conference. It's do or die at every stage, even in a two leg series. They have some of the best young players and coaches in the league. But should we be afraid? If you ask them, yes very afraid. You ask me, not a chance. What does all that mean, it means it won't be easy but the Sounders should take this series with ease. Game one is tomorrow night after the Seahawks finish up with their match against Dallas (opposite fields though). Let's dive into the Western Conference Semifinals.
This season we played Dallas twice and early on, taking four of the six points in those fixtures, a feeling that should keep the Sounders flying through this one. The club is coming off beating the boogie monster and blowing out Salt Lake to end the season. FC Dallas had the bye midweek by nature of being a top-two seed and won their final three matches, four of their last five. Four points out of six against Vancouver in that final stretch was the only matches against a playoff side. Dallas has figured it out as of late but like any Oscar Pareja team (or Dallas side) they are streaky. They will explode for weeks and then crash. They are like me on caffeine.
The Texan side plays with speed. They love to race on the counter or using the wings to get to the touchline. They'll cross, force it in, get a free kick, or something once they get there but their main goal is to out run you and get to the end line. With Fabian Castillo on one wing, he takes up a lot of attention and can outrun almost anyone else in the league. Out left, almost 100% time, it'll be up to Tyrone Mears to mark him out of the game. In the regular season matches, Mears marked him out of the match with ease, the key will be doing it again. If Mears plays as well as he has all season, he'll keep Castillo off the score sheet.
FCD has gone back and forth with the formations all season but there is a common theme, two wingers, an attacking mid/withdrawn striker, a lone striker, and two holding mids. They've recently shown a 4-4-1-1 but their favorite this year has been the 4-2-3-1. In any case, expect to see an attacking mid, Mauro Diaz, pull all the strings and a big man with some touch, Blas Perez or David Texeira, to be his target. Castillo and Michael Barrios will flank Diaz at all times. Diaz will play puppet master sending long balls for his striker and wingers to chase to the corner, from there they'll play it back to him near the top of the box to get off a long shot or final pass or the winger will play it as a cross for Perez/Texeira.
Overall they play a very simplistic style. The offense isn't complex, just fast. They don't rely on possession and are happy to keep 10 men behind the ball. In the midfield, they'll keep Victor Ulloa and a revolving CM partner to beat up anyone trying to go through. Unlike Gerrard or Juninho last week, they are not adept passers but they are quicker and good bruisers. Without Ozzie, there is a chance the Sounders are unable to control the midfield (it would be a stalemate with Friberg/Rose again). Both Ulloa and Acosta/Michel/Hollingshead/Cirigliano are physical players. They will commit fouls and take cards and they do not care. They'll leave an extra something in on every tackle and for the Sounders that is not great news but it does mean free kicks in dangerous positions for Ivanschitz/Pappa.
In the backline, they averaged giving up just over a goal a game at 1.14. Overall they are pretty stable, Jesse Gonzalez in goal has been a great combo with Dan Kennedy to be one of the best tandems in the league. The rest of that group is full of interesting characters. At CB, Zach Lloyd has moved inside to play with Matt Hedges for the season, they are not the best CB partnership and good forwards have made them look inept but they are more than serviceable for Dallas. Martins and Deuce should be able to take them out with ease after seeing how they handled Omar Gonzalez but the partnership overall knows each other better than Leonardo and Omar did. On the wings is where they have had turnover, Michel, Ryan Hollingshead (a midfielder/striker/wingback), Atiba Harris, Je-Vaughn Watson, and Moises Hernandez have all seen multiple starts and the wing back positions.
We'll likely see the same tandem that played against San Jose to end the season, Watson (who's not suspended for once) and Hollingshead. It is a great attacking wing back set but not too good at defense. They'll leave plenty of space for Neagle/Pappa/Ivanschitz/Mears/Fisher/Valdez/Friberg/Etc. out wide.
Altogether, they are very basic, fast, and physical. They will pick up plenty of cards on Sunday. The need for a shut out with the away-goal tiebreaker is crucial and we should expect the boys to focus on keeping one. We'll be without Ozzie and Leo but should have everyone else. It'll take full team defending to hold that goose egg but no matter what, the offense knows how to score and has caught a bug, scoring six goals in the last two games. By the time the dust settles I think we see the same scoreline we saw earlier this year at CenturyLink, 3-0 Seattle.
I see Pappa being the creator on the field and letting Ivanschitz take a breather to start this one and I don't think Valdez is fit enough to start again, but I'd prefer if he was. Neagle I have slotting in to replace the winger opposite of Pappa and staying out left for the most part to help Oniel Fisher defensively. Friberg and Rose were a fairly good tandem before and I expect that to happen again.