The stage is set and the teams are preparing their game plans.
FC Dallas will travel to sunny south Florida to take on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to begin their US Open Cup campaign. Hopefully they will have a better go-around than last year, when FCD crashed out of the USOC (along with several other MLS teams) early at the hands of the Charlotte Eagles, in a game where the Eagles started current Colorado Rapids keeper Clint Irwin.
FC Dallas has had a bit of luck with this draw. Despite having to play away, the Toros have pulled a team that is struggling mightily in the NASL's spring season, currently holding just four points out of six games played. They are dead last in the NASL standings, boast a goal differential of -6, and have only scored six goals the entire spring.
Their season began with goalkeepr Matt Glaeser in net, but apparently he was quite poor and replaced with rookie Cody Laurendi. Unfortunately for the Strikers, Laurendi has been injured (a lacerated kidney, ouch!) and will be out for the rest of the season, putting Glaeser back in net. Dallas has seen what shaky goalkeeping can do, so hopefully for the Toros this will be something they can exploit. Pressure him early and often.
With Dallas' defense looking strong (albeit not lately...), and Ft. Lauderdale's offense looking very weak, it's officially acceptable to feel that nothing less than a win will do.
However, even though this Strikers team is not playing well and can barely score a goal to save its life, they have just beaten a team on penalty kicks to advance, and that can provide the kind of oomph needed to succeed in a knockout competition. A little belief can go a long way, and sheer enthusiasm can will a team foward. Dallas would do well to remember not to take these Strikers fellows too lightly.
The Kids Are Alright
As far as personnel selection goes, Schellas Hyndman will hopefully rest most of the team's important starters for this one. There is little to be gained by trotting out David Ferreira, George John, Andrew Jacobson, or anybody else nursing an injury or having played major minutes. Smaller teams take these early stages of the competition much more seriously than MLS teams do, and they do whatever it takes to win. That includes no small amount of fouling and dirty tactics.
Despite the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic being a completely Mickey Mouse trophy (pun completely intended), Orlando SC went out of their way to take out David Ferreira, and after much kicking, tripping and pushing ultimately succeeded. It's not a stretch to say that the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is the entire world to teams in smaller leagues such as the NASL, and you can bet good money they will play their hardest to take the MLS leaders down.
With that in mind, I am not too keen on seeing the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, whose only chance at glory is through the USOC at the moment, hack our boys down for the sake of advancing to the next round. Our reserves should be able to dispatch this group with minimum fuss and in the process preserve the legs for our next league match.
While the Open Cup should be taken seriously, I don't see much of a point in fielding a large number of First XI players to face a smaller team. It might bite you in the rear, but I find the risk of injuring critical pieces to be too high to chance having them on the field.
Here's hoping Dallas can punch at least at their weight class and knock these Strikers out cold.