It’s crunch time in MLS. Half the games are at 2 PM (Eastern Conference) and the other half are at 4:30 PM (Western Conference). There are merely two games left, for everyone. The MLS Cup Playoffs are just 10 days away. Seattle Sounders are 4th in the West, just a point above going on the road for the play-in round. They are also within striking distance of 1st in the West.
These games are huge. Fox Sports 1 took this game between FC Dallas (6th West, 10-9-13 +0 overall, 3-7-6 -9 on the road) and Sounders because at one point these were the two favorites to win the West. That’s unlikely now, but both are squads capable of winning an MLS Cup, if things break their way. It’s now time for those breaks to start, or the season to end.
Drew from Big D Soccer answers Three Questions.
SaH: Will FC Dallas be able to hold off Real Salt Lake?
BDS: Given the schedules of the two clubs, it won't be easy. I'm also a little worried about what San Jose could do in this as well since they've been a team that has snuck into this race as of late. It will come down to this game on Sunday. If FC Dallas can at minimum get a point against the Sounders, it will go a long way in helping them be in a position for next week when they host LA in the finale. If they fail to get a win, it opens the doors wide open for RSL and San Jose.
SaH: FCD's attack shifted when Diaz went down. As he continues to recover will they mix styles?
BDS: In recent weeks we've see Oscar Pareja shift to a 4-3-3 look as he brought in former RSL great Javier Morales into the lineup. This move has helped allow Mauro Diaz to be a little more free in the midfield, similar to what we saw last year when the club had Mauro Rosales. This also allowed Carlos Gruezo to be a true midfield enforcer behind the two playmakers and it spurred on more wing play out of Michael Barrios and Roland Lamah.
This weekend however I could see Pareja go back to a 4-4-2 that relied more on counter attacking from the wings. Given the turf situation, I would be a bit shocked to see both Diaz and Morales on the pitch together but if the season is truly on the line like Pareja claims it is, then he probably shouldn't go away from a lineup that brought in five points in three games, with two shutouts.
SaH: Should Oscar Pareja be the next USMNT coach?
BDS: A year ago I would have said yes as long as FC Dallas could win a MLS Cup first but the more I think about what US Soccer needs, it really isn't Pareja. They need a manager that bleeds Red, White and Blue. They need someone that understands the ins and outs of how difficult CONCACAF is to deal with. At the end of the day I'm not totally sold that Pareja would be that guy. Yes, he is excellent at developing youth but he is also really stubborn about sticking with guys longer than he should (see someone like Atiba Harris).
Jesse Gonzalez, Hernan Grana, Matt Hedges, Atiba Harris, Maynor Figueroa, Carlos Gruezo, Javier Morales, Mauro Diaz, Roland Lamah, Michael Barrios, Maxi Urruti
BDS: The last time we spoke Seattle was in the middle of a weird string of draws, that included another one against FC Dallas. Since then the Sounders have lost two of three. Is there any panic setting in among the Sounder faithful that they might be backing into the post season?
SaH: It's not panic. Instead it is more legitimate concern. There were always holes in this team, there are holes in every team. Those holes opened up a few times this season (three straight blowout losses on the road in the Spring, the past two months where draws are the most common result). The depth issues that created those early season losses are gone. Now, the issue is with having a top three defense, but a midtable attack. That can do well, but doing well is not the standard in Seattle.
BDS: Seattle has always had their way with Dallas at home over the years, what would you say is the main factor in that dominance at home?
SaH: I've struggled with this one. We know how Sounders blew out FCD last year. There was a subpar lineup put forth and Nicolas Lodeiro went off. But that was a single match. The whys of long-term dominance are different, and likely unknowable. It probably relates to travel and large crowds. That's a bit of a cop-out, but Dallas doesn't often come to places with 40k plus. It may just be that little bit extra that pushes Seattle over them regularly. Or it just could be MLS road performances are generally bad.
BDS: What are some keys that Seattle will focus in on this weekend as they look to push closer to securing a playoff spot?
SaH: All of the questions focus on the offense. For the amount of talent on the roster, the attack just doesn't perform well enough. Without Jordan Morris the team lacks a speed dimension. Their possession game cannot merely be clock management. It must result in goals, whether through quick triggers or patient lateral movement. If the Seattle offense can get to the top third in production (rather than just expectation) this is a team that can go on a deep run. If not they likely do not make the Western Conference Finals.
Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Kelvin Leerdam; Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson; Victor Rodriguez, Harry Shipp, Nicolas Lodeiro; Clint Dempsey