BDS-1) The Union is unbeaten since the last time our two teams met on July 4th. What changed or what has the team done differently to keep this streak alive?
BrG: This turnaround really started when John Hackworth was fired back on June 10th and interim manager Jim Curtin took over. Curtin seems to have gained the respect of the locker room and has steadied the ship. Curtin has instituted a counterattacking style that fits the club well, as the strength of the club has lied with the defensive midfielders and wingers for most of the season. And unlike his predecessor, he plays people primarily in their preferred positions (don't try saying that with a mouthful of crackers). When you're able to find a system that allows your best eleven onto the field for most matches in positions they are familiar with, good things are bound to happen.
BDS-2) Last week, Philadelphia announced that Carlos Valdes is heading back to the team after a long loan stint in South America to compete for a spot at the World Cup in Brazil. I saw that he already went a full 90 minutes against Montreal. What kind of impact will Carlos make against Dallas compared to the July 4th game without him?
BrG: Carlos addresses the club's single biggest deficiency this season - the lack of an experienced center back. The club relied on players being played out of position - Amobi Okugo is naturally a central defensive midfielder, Sheanon Williams has been a right back for the past 5 years, and Aaron Wheeler is naturally a striker - as well as the relatively inexperienced (and injury-prone) Austin Berry to varying degrees of success. I think Carlos will blend well with Ethan White, who has played rather well but is inexperienced like Berry, and be that calming influence on the back line that was sorely missing for the first time in its short history.
BDS-3) While the Union is relatively new as a team, the USOC is no stranger to Philadelphia or Pennsylvania. Is the front office prioritizing this competition? What kind of significance does it bear to this Philly locker room and someone like Sebastien Le Toux who won it with a different team?
BrG: Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said when they brought back Carlos Valdes "We're an ambitious club. We want to win. We want to lift trophies." and I think the club sees this as a good opportunity to win their first trophy. I also believe that the prevailing wisdom since the US Open Cup competition began for the Union has been "As terrible as the club has been in MLS play, they can still put together a decent run and win a trophy. D.C. United did it last year, we can do it this year." Now obviously the team has turned around their form in MLS over the past month or so, but I think the drive is still there. I also believe that the players want to be immortalized as the first ones to lift a trophy in a Union shirt, and really believe that this is a great opportunity to do that.
Projected Lineup: M'Bolhi; Gaddis, Valdes, White, Williams; Edu, Okugo, Maidana, Nogueira; Le Toux, Casey
Projected Scoreline: I think that the Union are confident because of their form as well as the recently added pieces to the team, and will get their first ever win against Dallas .1-0 Union AET.
My answers to Philly's questions:
BrG-1.) How important is lifting the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Trophy to FC Dallas and their fans?
BDS: It is immensely important to the club and its fans. As you are well aware, the Hunt Sports Group was created by Lamar Hunt, and it was his dream to bring world class soccer to North Texas. His sons and the Hunt family is eager to see FC Dallas recapture the trophy which bares his name. There was serious effort put into the 100th edition of the USOC last year, but the team fell flat in the tournament within a dry spell far outlasting that cup run. This year, we have a new coach and a few new players who are just as eager to land some silverware. Many of the fans will remember the US Open Cup victory in 1997... and the losses in 2005 and 2007. FC Dallas is one of the oldest teams in MLS, so 1997 seems like forever ago. It's about time one of MLS's founding clubs get to raise another trophy.
BrG-2.) Dallas was the last team to beat Philadelphia (other than a 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace in a friendly). How has FCD changed since July 4th?
BDS: The changes have been subtle but they have all been for the better. Mauro Diaz is back from injury suffered this spring. Fabian Castillo will be in the lineup; he was suspended back on July 4th. Tesho Akindele and Blas Perez have been clicking up top to become a very dangerous forward duo. They only seem to be getting better as the season progresses. FCD was bouncing back from a winless slump toward the beginning of summer- since that time, the team has only reinforced, week in and week out, that it will be a contender. FC Dallas still has not been beaten; the last loss was against San Jose on May 31.
BrG-3.) Dallas has been to the Cup Final three times before, winning it in 1997 and losing in 2005 and 2007. Will that experience carry over to this club, or is it too far removed?
BDS: There is only one direct participant from any of those final appearances, but I suspect we will see those runs impact the current team in little ways. Oscar Pareja didn't join FCD as a player until 1998, so he missed the 1997 win. He was, however, an assistant coach for the 2005 team (but he may have missed 2007 when he was at IMG). Oscar will understand what it was like to lose the Cup Final and hopefully has applied those lessons to the 2014 run.
No FC Dallas player on the roster today was around in 2007. George John and Jair Benitz are the longest tenured players on the team, both joining in 2009. However, there are a few that went to Toronto in 2010 for the MLS Cup Final. Those guys will remember what it was like to be in the final and go home empty handed, and I believe they won't want to repeat it. FC Dallas has the best path of the 4 remaining teams because they are guaranteed home field advantage for both the semi and the final, should they advance. I think FC Dallas, from the Front Office to the interns, will put everything they have into this tournament.
Fernandez, Loyd, Hedges, Keel, Watson, Ulloa, Moffat, Escobar, Diaz, Castillo, Perez
Dallas 2-1 Philadelphia