FC Dallas opens up their 2011 Western Conference title defense tonight against Eastern Conference and long-time Brimstone Cup foe Chicago Fire. In a very rare occurrence for FC Dallas, the game is nearly sold out with just the pricey tickets left. Dallas will be selling standing room only tickets at the gate for $18 if you haven't grabbed a ticket yet.
-Jair Benitez suspended for tonight's match. A big loss for the Dallas back four, but Zach Loyd should fill in decently though the left sided attack might suffer a bit as Loyd doesn't offer the same overlapping runs that Jair does.
-Ugo Ihemelu could make the bench. He trained fully yesterday and is officially questionable. I'd say it's 50-50 that Ugo makes the bench.
-Chicago has beaten FC Dallas once in the last ten meetings. That win came on the 2009 season opener, though Chicago has not won the Brimston Cup in the last nine seasons.
Keep reading for keys to the game, links and prediction.
Keys to the game
-Jump on Chicago early. I think Chicago will be a pretty decent team by the middle of the season, but right now their pre-season results were less than stellar and they look to still be trying to figure things out offensively. An early goal would likely kill the game for Chicago forcing them to break their defensive shape and giving FCD more opportunities on the counter attack where they're more comortable.
-No stupid free kicks. I'm not too familiar with how Chicago's new signs are on dead ball opportunities but I do know that Marco Pappa can hit a sweet ball and the Fire's best chance might be Pappa bagging one from a free kick. Dallas needs to not give up cheapies around the box.
-Big game for Zach Loyd. Despite playing for the US National Team in January, Loyd has found himself a bit on the outside looking in lately but with Benitez suspended Loyd looks the odds on favorite for left back today. More than just impressing to keep his own spot, Loyd needs to be mindful of Brek Shea making a rookie mistake or two in the back and needing to cover for him.
A little self promotion first. If you've missed any of our coverage of the build up to the home opener you can find our best stuff of the week:
T-Lo over at the FW Star Telegram writes that FCD is looking to top their best ever season. Great to see T-Lo getting the chance to write some FC Dallas news again for the FWST.
Andy Friedlander writes that moving to the back may help Brek Shea move forward. By the way, you won't be seeing me link to the Dallas Morning News much this year. I'm not going to make a habit out of linking to articles behind a paywall.
From the other side's view, Charlie Corr of ESPN Chicagofocuses on Chicago's revamped 2011 side.
Finally, Colorado opens against Portland tonight with a matchup featuring two players on opposite sides that we know very well here in Dallas.
I just can't see Dallas losing this one. Like I said, I think Chicago will be a good team later in the season when things really matter, but right now Dallas is a side that's almost exactly the same from last year, has been home for two weeks and knows exactly what they want to do.
Chicago is still figuring out their formation and their identity. Combine that with the rabid atmosphere that is expected tonight and I see FC Dallas fairly easily dispatching of Chicago.
FC Dallas 3 Chicago Fire 1
If you can't make the game, be sure to join Drew Epperley right here as he covers the game from high above Pizza Hut Park. Go FCD!