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Scouting Report: One last rodeo with FC Dallas

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The Toros will aim to show Seattle what the running of the bulls is really like.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

What You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders welcome FC Dallas to CenturyLink Field on Sunday. This is their penultimate game of the regular season. This is also the second and last regular season meeting between these two teams. Just last month, these two played to a 0-0 draw in Frisco, Texas.

The Sounders sit in fourth place in the Western Conference Finals (47 points in 32 games played; 1.47 ppg) while Dallas sits in the sixth and final playoff spot (43 points in 32 games played; 1.34 ppg). It’s simple for the Sounders, win and they are in the playoffs and will have a great shot at claiming the No. 2 seed.

Current Form

Dallas: D-L-W-D-D; four goals scored and five conceded

Top Scorer: Maxi Urruti; 12 goals

Top Assist Leader: Michael Barrios; 14 assists

Seattle: D-D-L-W-L; four goals scored and five conceded

Top Scorer: Clint Dempsey; 12 goals

Top Assist Leader: Joevin Jones and Nicolas Lodeiro; 11 assists

Absences: Injury, international duty, suspension

Dallas: They have nobody listed on MLS’ injury report as of now. Nobody is suspended for this game, but both Carlos Gruezo and Hernan Grana are one game away for a mandatory one-game suspension due to accumulation.

Seattle: It’s the usual suspects for the Sounders. Brad Evans (lower back), Jordan Morris (right hamstring strain) and Calum Mallace (left quad strain) are all listed as out. Osvaldo Alonso (quad injury) is listed on the injury report but there is no designation as his status.

Referee Assignments

REF: Drew Fischer
AR1: Joe Fletcher
AR2: Cameron Blanchard
4TH: Alejandro Mariscal
VAR: Jon Freemon

What to Watch

There’s a lot on the line for both teams coming into this weekend; Seattle needs a win to stay in contention for a first-round bye, while Dallas needs points to ensure they maintain their tenuous grasp on the last playoff spot.

The collapse in Frisco has been nothing short of extraordinary, and just as baffling has been Oscar Pareja’s inability to completely right the ship. They have just one win in their last 13 matches, at home over the lowly Colorado Rapids. It has been a failure across the board, with the defense largely falling flat on its face the few times the offense has figured out how to put the ball in the net.

The defensive struggles seem to come down almost entirely to an ongoing inability to kill long through-balls, or anything that gets the back line back-peddling. Early in the year whichever two of Victor Ulloa, Kellyn Acosta, and Carlos Gruezo were playing seemed to always be in the right place - now, not so much. At the same time, the pressure from the offense fails to slow counters on a regular basis. Some of this can also be chalked up to the youth in goal. For all his talent, and there’s a lot of it, Jesse Gonzalez has struggled to organize the back at times. Even with talented centerbacks, that goalkeeper leadership is a vital component to defensive success.

All of this means that while Dallas has generally won the possession battle, and even been fairly dangerous in chance creation and movement, they’re seemingly always a team under duress. An inability to produce a quality final ball, poor finishing when it is given, and a plethora of careless and dangerous turnovers has left a talented side clinging to its 2017 MLS life.

Stay forward, stay spaced - Seattle is not a fast team that will be able to take advantage of fast breaks in the same way other teams have. That’s not great, but it’s OK. Much of the success seen with the formation against Vancouver should be translatable, but it won’t be easy.

Dempsey as a sort of false-9 worked well then because it left two non-mobile CBs (Waston, Parker) to deal with someone just out of their comfort zone, and allowed the band of three to overload the defensive midfielders. Matt Hedges and whomever he partners with (either of Atiba Harris or Walker Zimmerman) are much more mobile and willing to track high to defend. They’ll have to balance coming high to assist with the overload against leaving the back exposed too much.

The biggest question will be whether the CDM pairing can handle the movement of Seattle’s crafty perpetual motion machines in the middle. The quick interchanges and smart movement of Victor Rodriguez, Nicolas Lodeiro, and a hopefully-mostly-whole Cristian Roldan should be able to generate quality chances off of Clint’s excellent hold-up play and secondary runs.

Keep defensive shape - Dallas uses less cross-field player movement, preferring to attack through angled runs and through-balls. Solid shape is going to go a long way in helping stymie what has become an unimaginative Dallas offense.

Of course, this will be a very different type of game from the one we saw in Frisco last time. There will be no temperature concerns that slow the pace. Pareja has called this match the one that will decide their season, and he’s really not wrong. We should expect that Dallas will push very hard against a Seattle team that has often struggled with passive attacking, even at home. The defense will be tested in all sorts of directions.

It’s unlikely we see Osvaldo Alonso in a starting role this week. Roldan is likely to reprise his more upfield role. Both Roman Torres and Joevin Jones are coming off a draining set of matches. That’s a lot of tumult, and there will be significant pressure on Gustav Svensson and Jordy Delem to offset it. They’ll need to contain the always dangerous Mauro Diaz, as well as identify secondary runners like Michael Barrios and Kellyn Acosta. Dallas’ preferred attacking side is down the right, which means there will need to be significant support to this side to cover for Seattle’s marauding LB. If they allow themselves to be pulled too far apart the Hoops are talented enough to exploit the space left behind.

Expected Lineups

Seattle: Stefan Frei; Jones, Chad Marshall, Torres, Kelvin Leerdam; Svensson, Delem; Rodriguez, Roldan, Lodeiro; Dempsey

Dallas: Jesse Gonzalez; Maynor Figueroa, Harris, Hedges, Hernan Grana; Acosta, Gruezo; Roland Lamah, Diaz, Barrios; Maxi Urutti

How to Watch

Date/Time: October 15 at 4:30 PM

Venue: CenturyLink Field

Television: FS1 and FOX Deportes

Radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)