Eugene joins us this week to talk turkey with Brotherly Game, the Philadelphia Union sb nation blog. Dallas travels to the east coast with a record of 2-0-0 so far in 2015, the first time that has happened since 2006.
Big D Soccer-1. The Eastern Conference lost two strong teams to the West but gained two new expansion sides with shiny new Designated Players. What is the Union's strategy to compete against the big spending clubs?
Brotherly Game: The Union have always said they're not going to spend big and instead intend to develop players here and spend smart. So the Front Office doesn't look at the New York Red Bulls or Seattle Sounders as the model for the franchise - instead they look at Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake as successful clubs who excel with what they have. The Union has really invested a lot of money into their one-of-a-kind (at least in MLS) academy, one that serves not only as a soccer academy but as a prep school as well. It's been a tough sell on some fans who want to win right now, but I think the majority realize that it's going to be the only way the club can compete with the Seattle's and LA Galaxy's of the league.
BDS-2. After a long period as interim head coach, the Union Front Office finally awarded Jim Curtin the official title at the end of last season. What kind of identity and style of play is he cultivating for his hometown Philadelphia team?
BG: During his career with the Chicago Fire Jim was a solid, physical center back, and I think that's the sort of player that Jim likes. You see it in the personnel decisions that he's made, opting to go with Ethan White over Austin Berry at center back last year after John Hackworth was let go, and acquiring Steven Vitoria from Benfica earlier this year. But don't think it's all physicality - he's been able to get good play out of guys like Sebastien Le Toux, Cristian Maidana, and newcomer Fernando Aristeguieta - guys who rely on skill and vision and not just physicality. The Union also are great on the counterattack, which is something FC Dallas fans can appreciate.
BDS-3. The offseason saw a lot of player movement in the face of an uncertain CBA outcome, so some new signing news was overshadowed. What player(s) may Dallas fans be unfamiliar with that could make an impact on Friday's match?
BG: The Union's offseason additions weren't huge splash signings, but they really added critical pieces to the team. Steven Vitoria is a 6'5" center back who is on loan from Benfica. The guy is not only massive but has a good touch on the ball and great defensive awareness. Once he, White, and goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi all get on the same page I think it'll be among the best defensive units in the league (along with full backs Ray Gaddis and Sheanon Williams). Offensively, the Union brought in the aforementioned Fernando Aristeguieta on loan from FC Nantes and CJ Sapong in from Sporting Kansas City. These players both offer the Union different options in the attack. Aristeguieta is a complete forward - a guy with the ability to consistently get himself in a position to score. Sapong is of the same mold, however he's a little more physical than Aristeguieta. Unfortunately though Sapong is out with a broken cheekbone, so he'll miss the match.
Rais M'Bolhi; Ray Gaddis, Steven Vitoria, Ethan White, Sheanon Williams; Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira; Andrew Wenger, Zach Pfeffer, Sebastien Le Toux; Fernando Aristeguieta
With both teams looking to go on the counterattack and there being a preliminary forecast of snow for Friday night, I'd look for both teams to grind out a 0-0 draw.
Next on deck is the reverse interview in which I write all of my comments backwards! No wait, ...
BG-1.) FC Dallas was a strong team last year, and there wasn't a whole lot of turnover going into this season. Will that hurt or help as FCD sets out to win a very competitive Western Conference?
BDS: It will definitely help the team tremendously. As we've seen with recent champions like LA Galaxy, RSL, etc. the MLS Cup Champion is often earned by a team with a solid core of veterans and youth who were built up over time. Championship teams have amazing chemistry and communication, things that take time to gel. The small amount of turnover was by design. Chris Seitz returns in goal with familiar backline players like Matt Hedges, Zach Loyd, JeVaughn Watson, and Moises Hernandez. Atiba Harris and Dan Kennedy, 2 players who were previously familiar with FC Dallas, joined the team over the offseason. On the other end of the field, Blas Perez returns along with a strong stable of forwards and wingers to form a cohesive attacking force on the backs of hard working midfielders such as Michel, Mauro Diaz, and Victor Ulloa. FC Dallas has a formidable core, and the winter only served to strengthen it with a few pieces. I expect this roster philosophy to continue for the next couple of seasons, at least.
BG-2.) Can you talk a little bit about the goalkeeping situation? Most of us in Philadelphia remember Chris Seitz' 2010 campaign with the Union that was riddled with gaffes and were confident he'd be unseated as the number one by ex-Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
BDS: Chris Seitz has grown and improved greatly since his days at Philadelphia. I don't think any goalkeeper is happy with being #2, but from what I've heard, Seitz took advantage of working with Kevin Hartman, a veteran GK holding many MLS records. Over that time, Chris filled in as needed and then took a big step after Hartman retired. He was able to go toe-to-toe with newcomer Raul Fernandez the past couple of years, aptly subbing in when Raul was called away to Peru National Team duty. Seitz could be #1 on other MLS teams again, but Oscar Pareja really values the competition at every spot. Dan Kennedy was in DC for the last couple weeks of preseason working with the MLSPA on CBA negotiations. I believe this gave Seitz the advantage to start the season, and his performances thus far have kept him in that spot. I think Dan will play when he unseats Chris in training, if Chris has a bad game, or when Oscar believes it will be strategically advantageous to do so.
BG-3.) FC Dallas has seen some lean years, but really seemed to turn it around last year. To what do you attribute that to, and is it something that seems sustainable?
BDS: Two words: Oscar Pareja. "Papi" as he is known, has served FC Dallas since 1998 as player, assistant coach, academy director, and now as head coach. His familiarity with the players and staff gave him a running start that no other new coach could have matched. As a part of this club for so many years, his fingerprints are all over signings like Fabian Castillo and academy players like Victor Ulloa. This team was primed for Oscar long before he took the job, and he is not holding anything back now that he is here. FC Dallas invested heavily in the academy system, but former head coach Schellas Hyndman wouldn't play home grown signings. Oscar takes a different approach. If you are on this roster, you are expected to play and contribute to the team when called upon. If you can't compete, you won't languish in a high numbered roster spot - you will be cut.
Specifically with regards to Castillo, Oscar was instrumental in him signing for FC Dallas. Both are from Colombia, with Oscar having been on the national team during his playing career. Castillo stayed with Oscar when he first arrived, cushioning the culture shock and language gap as Castillo adjusting to his new surroundings in North Texas. Oscar is the key to unlocking Castillo's potential.
Seitz, Harris, Hedges, Loyd, Hernandez, Michel, Ulloa, Diaz, Akindele, Perez, Castillo
It's possible that we see Hollingshead for Akindele. I haven't heard anything from training, but I think Seitz keeps his spot for one more week. We may see Kennedy's debut against Seattle at home next week.
I think some early season confidence trips Dallas up on their first away game, but their talent is enough to salvage a 1-1 draw against the Union. FCD faces a big conference match up next week against Seattle, and Perez will leave to join the Panama National Team. This team is vulnerable if their minds drift too much into next week and aren't focused 100% on Philadelphia on Friday.
That's a wrap for this edition! Thank you to Eugene for participating and to you for reading.
How do you think FC Dallas will fare in Philly? Can they turn this good start into a winning streak, or do you think they stumble away from Frisco?
Have your say in the comments below: