Here we are, it's D-day in Salt Lake City where one of the top 3 teams in MLS will have their season ended tonight. Jason Kreis has said he thinks this is the game of the year. Pretty much everyone has agreed that FCD vs RSL was the most exciting first leg of the playoffs. Two teams that want to play their style home or on the road.
For FC Dallas, this is a golden chance to end an 11 year drought of playoff drought stretching back to 1999 despite having been to the playoffs 4 out of the last 6 years. Dallas has not been beaten in regulation in any of their last three trips, losing in penalties to Colorado twice and in overtime to Houston in 2007. There's a lot of demons for this Dallas team to exorcise tonight if they want to advance to the Western Conference finals.
However, this 2010 team is completely different than those 2005-2007 teams who crumbled at the highest pressure moments. With Kevin Hartman in goal, Dallas has lost just once in 19 games this season, a 1-0 loss to Los Angeles all the way back on May 20th.
Keys to the Game
-Weather the first 20 minutes. Dallas did a great job at Salt Lake a few weeks ago of controlling the first 20 minutes and they need to be focused from the get go tonight. An early goal would be a disaster for FC Dallas and probably doom them to another playoff disappointment. In front of a sold out crowd, RSL is going to come out of the locker room fired up and Dallas has to be smart, control the ball and not give away stupid turnovers.
-Force Andy Williams to come deep to get the ball. The Jamaican veteran is a clear step down from Javier Morales in speed, but he is still deadly when given the ball in dangerous positions. Making him come deeper to get the ball will allow for Daniel Hernandez to get in front of him and let George John keep his focus on denying service to the RSL forwards.
More keys and links after the jump
-Swift counterattacks with BrekShea and Chavez. I know Dallas says they're going to want to play their style, but it's almost impossible to not be forced to play a counterattacking style with RSL's high pressure system at home. Chavez and Shea have given Salt Lake fits at different times this season and Salt Lake will be most vulnerable when they're forced to defend the speed of Chavez with the combination of speed and size from Shea.
-Quit the determination of trying to cross the ball and play it right down the spine either over the top or on the ground. For the first 35 minutes last Saturday, Dallas seemed determined to play the ball outside and cross it in. This turned out to be a disaster and both of Dallas goals were scored on attacks stemming from RSL mistakes in the center of the midfield. Andy Williams is very liable to getting caught up field with his lack of speed.
-Keep your head in the last 15 minutes if you have the lead. How many times have we seen an FC Dallas player get a dumb red card late in a playoff game in the last decade? Players like Brek Shea and Jeff Cunningham MUST keep their heads and keep their emotions under control if Dallas has the lead late in the game.
-Refuse to lose. We can talk tactics and psychology all we want, but it seems like in almost every playoff series the last 20 minutes of the game is about who wants it more and who's going to step up. With this FC Dallas team, I like my chances. 2006 was more talented, but those players did not play for each other. The attitude we've seen out of this team all season is so much like the 2010 Rangers in that it's not the most talented team in the league, but they're going to leave everything they've got on the field.
-If you're wanting to watch the game with lots of FC Dallas fans head to the Allen Wickers. I haven't been there before because it only opened a few days ago, but I hear it's pretty nice and that's where the FCD supporters will be myself included, though I'm sure PHP or Trinity Hall are good bets also. This really isn't a game you should watch at home. It's off 75 between Park and Parker in Plano.
Kind of simplistic, but FCD and MLS have really stepped up their game the last couple of weeks. There's some great content with Schellas mic-ed up in practice, Jason Kreis' thoughts on FCD and lots more.
George John was immense for the first 20 games of the season, but after he picked up a recurring hamstring injury he hasn't been quite the same. Speed is definitely the biggest problem with him, though his understanding with Ugo Ihemelu has curtailed that somewhat.
The crux of this game will lie in central midfield. Both teams keep the area congested, Salt Lake using its diamond's slick passing to advance and Dallas providing a platform for the little genius of David Ferreira.
Keep an eye on how well the respective destroyers, Kyle Beckerman and Daniel Hernandez, close down space and shut down counterattacks.
Andy Friedlander writes for the DMN that the FCD rookies are making the most of their opportunities
"I'm kind of familiar with the playoff atmosphere," Loyd said. "Obviously, the intensity rises, but my last two years in college we made the [NCAA] final four. In the playoffs, the intensity goes up another notch. I'm used to that. But this is definitely at another level."
James Edward writes for the Deseret News that RSL feels comfortable at home(ya think?)
Now Dallas just needs to protect the lead to advance. At Rio Tinto Stadium, where Real Salt Lake is unbeaten in 32 straight in all competitions, it won't be easy.
"I think that our team is at their absolute best when their backs are firmly against the wall, and now that's exactly where we are," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Cases can easily be made for both sides. RSL is unbeaten at home in 32 games in all competitions...Dallas has lost just once this season with Kevin Hartman in goal....Dallas doesn't need a win, however. I think this one is going to be a tactical first half much like we saw a few weeks ago and go 0-0 into halftime. Dallas survives some frantic RSL pushing forward and grabs a counterattacking goal right before the end to seal a 1-0 win and move into the Western Conference Finals for the first time in a decade. Call me a homer, but I can't ignore the unbeaten streak Dallas has with Hartman in goal. Had Hartman been in goal for the game a few weeks ago, it would have ended 0-0.
FC Dallas 1 Real Salt Lake 0