After an intense midweek battle that saw FC Dallas win the play-in match, we're back at the grind ahead of Seattle's next visit to Toyota Stadium. This week, I exchanged emails with Dave Clark at Sounder at Heart.
BDS1. Things didn't go well for the Sounders on their last visit to Frisco. What changes do you expect to see this time around?
SaH: Zach Scott won't get injured. Scott entered the season as the 4th CB. It was probably going to be his last year. As a long time pro there were indications that his time was passing. Then 2014 actually happened. Scott is now not just the 2nd best CB on the team, he is clearly the second best centerback on the team. With Scott the defense goes from middle-of-the-road to pretty damn good. An argument could be made that Scott's been the key to the defense. It would be wrong, but it could be made. What he is is the perfect partner for Chad Marshall on the current roster.
The other thing that needs to stop is the allowing of Michel to celebrate penalty goals. The way to do this in the rules is to not commit penalties, but I'd rather he just stop celebrating them as if he scored the goal of the year.
BDS2. Chad Marshall became a solid linchpin in the back line. What has sparked his resurgence this season, and will he be able to remain healthy through the playoffs?
SaH: I thought the answer was simple - health and Sigi. But he's won a Supporters' Shield and Defender of the Year when not healthy and without Schmid. So it is likely a bit more complex. He's surrounded by great attacking talent, but the other defenders range from acceptable to decent. The change of scenery has to have re-invigorated him. All the things that he did well in past seasons he's doing at an amazing level this year. His only injury came from a car accident. This is also his third year in the last four of playing 30 or more games.
People can continue to worry about the injury issues of the past, or they can focus on what he's done in 2014. And what he's done in 2014 is be a Defender of the Year quality player on a team that gives up a lot of goals. It's a special season for Marshall and it deserves recognition throughout the league.
BDS3. With news that Sigi Schmid may get a contract extension and that he wants to retire with the Sounders, what does Seattle's only MLS Coach mean to the fans and club?
SaH: There is an element of the fanbase that will never be satisfied with Sigi. Even after taking a domestic double there are avid Seattle soccer fans who want him released at the end of 2014. It is an irrational hate that probably needs some Master's level thesis written about it.
There is also the level of fans of Sigi that lead to the creation of this. That was probably the turning point for Schmid. He'd enjoyed his time here, but now Seattle is a type of home to him. It is why he wants to stay with this organization well beyond just his years as a coach. It may have taken him a while, but his connections to the area continue to grow. Winning that sixth major trophy in six years will cement him as one of the greatest coaches Seattle's seen in any sport.
SaH Projected Lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Scott, Marshall, Yedlin; Neagle, Pineda, Alonso, Evans; Dempsey, Martins
*** Next Up are my answers to Sounder at Heart's questions... ***
SaH1 - It's short notice, but can the combination of Playoff fever and the Sounders help generate enough interest to create a home-field advantage?
BDS: Based on what the club is saying late this week, I expect them to break 20,000 which is a solid showing for FC Dallas. FCD was/is the butt of attendance jokes for many years, but if you are here, you can see the long term vision taking shape now. Frisco is nowhere near downtown Dallas. Downtown Dallas, however, is not and has not been the hub of professional sports in North Texas. Frisco is 27 miles north of Dallas. Real estate experts track the major population growth in the northern suburbs. Downtown Dallas is not the population center for the metropolitan area, it's somewhere north and continues to shift north as new businesses migrate from other states to places like Plano. The Dallas Cowboys began construction on their massive luxury hotel and practice facility 4 miles down the road from FC Dallas's stadium and offices- Jerry Jones isn't building anything in the City of Dallas.
So all of that to say that attendance is trending upward for FC Dallas' home ground. Average attendance for the regular season was 16,800 which is approximately 80% capacity of Toyota Stadium. That's an almost 10% increase over 2013. This is the 4th or 5th year of consecutive growth. The crowd is rising, and it's getting louder. Let's just pray the vuvuzelas find their way to the trash can.
SaH2 - The Dallas attack if varied with several technical players, but they can also play direct. Is there one person that is key to its flow?
BDS: No there isn't, and that's a good thing. FC Dallas came into this situation by force. Last year, David Ferreira was the offensive engine but never regained his MVP form after injury. Mauro Diaz early this season was beginning to look like an exciting successor before crashing out of the lineup with his own injury. Oscar Pareja's flexibility and willingness to play the young guys created a deep bench of experienced players as opposed to the reserve team with no MLS minutes we saw last year. No Dallas player is in the top 10 of any league stat because achievements have been spread out, and minutes are spread out too. FCD has had success with various formations. The team has scored from set pieces, flanks, and center of the field. OP has built a fluid team that can adjust.
SaH3 - This is going to come down to a set-piece isn't it?
BDS: Most likely. Seattle has a tough defense led by seasoned veterans. FCD loses a bit of their edge on the counter attack because of speedy players like DeAndre Yedlin. If both teams bring their A-game, this could be another low scoring affair. I don't expect to see either team with a clean sheet. The key to both sides, and possibly the answer to your set piece question, is to keep emotional control. The MLS Cup playoffs are intense, and there will be opportunity for either team to earn a red card and swing the favor for the other team.
BDS Projected Lineup:
Seitz, Watson, Loyd, Hedges, Acosta, Michel, Ulloa, Castillo, Escobar, (Akindele or Texeira), Perez
That's it for this edition. What do you think of Dave's answer? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comment section below.
I'll see you at Toyota Stadium on Sunday!