March has come and gone and a month into the MLS season, FC Dallas stands at the top of the league with 10 points in 4 games. Despite the hot start, some point to a soft early schedule of weaker opponents and 3 home games as reason why this year's Hoops may not be as good as their record so far suggests.
Enter a game on the road versus their biggest rival and playoff regular, the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo once again find themselves in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference with 6 points through 3 games. The Dynamo will have revenge on their minds as Dallas won both meetings of the two clubs last year, a 3-2 win in Dallas in March and a 3-0 win in Dallas in the US Open Cup.
Tony Cascio is on loan to the Dynamo from Colorado and started in Week 1 before suffering a knee injury. He could possibly be ready to play this week. Brad Davis started and played about an hour for the USMNT against Mexico on Wednesday, which could possibly affect his playing time headed into this game.
The Dynamo play a 4-4-2 with one central midfielder who pushes forward and one who plays more of a holding role, but not so much as to call it a true diamond midfield, as they do interchange some.
Goalkeeper: Tally Hall; RB: Kofi Sarkodie; CB: David Horst, Jermaine Taylor; LB: Corey Ashe; CM: Ricardo Clark, Boniek Garcia; RM: Andrew Driver; LM: Brad Davis; FW: Giles Barnes, Will Bruin
If Cascio is ready to play this week, he slots in on the right side of midfield. If Brad Davis is unable to play long minutes, you could see both Cascio and Driver out wide.
Will Bruin vs. Hedges & Keel - The Dynamo offense tends to be good when Bruin is good, and bad when he is bad. Shutting down service to Bruin will be a big key in this game. If Houston is forced to commit more numbers forward in order to generate chances, which they tend to do with 2 attack minded fullbacks, they can vulnerable to the speedy Dallas counter attack.
Mauro Diaz vs. Ricardo Clark - Houston gaffer Dominic Kinnear is plenty sharp enough to know that the Dallas offense runs through Diaz. Expect Ricardo Clark to shadow Diaz and try to disrupt the amazing service he has been providing. The only game the Dallas offense has sputtered this season has been against Sporting KC on the road, when they were effectively able to take Diaz out of his normal rhythm. Houston will look to do the same.
Keys to Three Points
Three points will be hard to come by in this derby contest on the road. Houston, both the team and their fans, are putting a lot of emphasis on this game so expect a fired up club and a rowdy crowd.
The major key to a Dallas win will be to use the same formula they have been able to use successfully so far, which is to use their pace advantage on the wings to be dangerous down the flanks, which then opens up space for Mauro to work his magic. If the offense is clicking and Houston is on their heels, it could easily be FCD's day.
The return of Hendry Thomas should help to slow down Boniek Garcia, a very underrated but highly skilled player, as well as Giles Barnes, who tends to drop back into the midfield to get on the ball if he isn't seeing much service. Thomas needs to be at his solid and consistent best to settle the Dallas defense and shield the back line.
I believe Dallas can score against the Dynamo. But there will be a talented team and a hostile environment to overcome in order to get all three points. My gut tells me a draw is a good result here. I say this ends in a 1-1 draw, but with a possibility that Dallas gets a winner in the second half.
That's my opinion. What's yours? Answer the poll and give your reasons in the comments section.