Columbus enters the game on a bit of a hot streak, winning three out of their last four matches under interim manager Brian Bliss.
FC Dallas Notes:
The chase. FC Dallas sits at 40 points going into Sunday's clash. At the moment they are one point back of 6th place and five points back of fifth place. Every point matters from here on out.
26. Schellas Hyndman has used 26 different lineups this season in 29 games. It is very possible this could be a rare game that Hyndman doesn't use a new lineup, the first time he's been able to do so since April.
September 29. FCD has only placed once in its history on September 29, which remarkably was last season in a 3-3 draw with San Jose. Blas Perez has two goals in that game.
Bliss has certainly brought out a new energy in the Crew since taking over back at Labor Day. Columbus has rebounded nicely due to some youth in their lineup. Bliss has recently been starting three Homegrown players. Keeper Matt Lampson, defender Chad Barson and midfielder Wil Trapp have help energize the Crew from top to bottom.
Columbus is a dangerous team to be facing right now. Just like Dallas, they are just points behind the red line in the MLS standings and are starting to hit their groove at the right time in this playoff chance. A few weeks ago, they looked dead in the water.
Columbus has two big prongs to their attack, one on the outside in former FCD speedster Dominic Oduro and the other in Designated Player Federico Higuain. Both have double-digit goal marks on the season while Higuain also leads the Crew with eight assists on the season.
The Black-and-Gold are a team that does foul their fair share. They are in the upper middle part of the league in terms of fouls committed. On the flip side, the Crew have been better defensively since Bliss took over as head coach. Of their four most recent games, the Crew have earned two shutouts. Part of that is due to the health of veteran Chad Marshall in the middle of the defense. The Crew are massively better with him healthy in their defense.
Bliss has continued to keep the Crew in a 4-4-2 since taking over. He typically sits Higuain behind Jairo Arrieta in the attack.
Keys to Three Points:
Play the full 90. Both teams are bad at giving up late goals. Each have given up a combined 27 goals in the final 15 minutes of the game this season. Whomever wins the battle late will likely come out on top in this one.
Go at the wings with speed. One thing the Crew have been able to do lately is neutralize the other team's wing play. They did so last weekend against Chicago and will likely try to this weekend. I would argue though that they haven't met the kind of speed on the wings in their current hot streak like what Dallas has. Dallas needs to take it to the Crew on the wings come Sunday with pace.
Expose the youth. While Columbus has been better as of late due to their youth, Dallas will want to expose that youth for the lack of big-game experience that they have. In the midfield, veteran players like Andrew Jacobson and David Ferreira need to draw out Trapp and Toni Tchani into unfavorable spots. Fabian Castillo will need to use his speed against Barson as well on the sideline.
Shutdown Higuain. That will be the biggest key in keeping this one in Dallas' favor. If they are able to keep Higuain off the ball as much as possible, it will certainly give the Crew's offense fits and allow Dallas to have more time on the ball to create chances of their own.
The term must-win doesn't even begin to describe this one. This is Fergie Time of soccer right here. Dallas has to win this one or else their season is largely over (I know some of you negative-Nancys will say it is already over). I see Dallas struggling for some stretches of the game but they will pull it out late in the end.
Dallas 2, Columbus 1
What is your score prediction for Sunday's game? Let's hear it below.