This week, we are generously joined by Ben from Black and Red United, the DC United site.
Big D Soccer 1. FC Dallas earned their first road win since May by beating up on Orlando without Kaka or Cyle Larin. This week, DC United visits Frisco without Bill Hamid or Fabian Espindola. Who else is missing, and how does Ben Olsen mitigate the absences?
Black and Red Ben: Chris Pontius is just coming back from injury, United just traded also-injured Luis Silva to RSL for Alvaro Saborio (who will not be making an appearance), and both Michael Farfan and Sean Franklin are still a couple weeks away from returning. Luckily, United has a deep squad and a large number of players with starting experience. Chris Korb and Taylor Kemp will start at fullback; Korb is probably the fastest player on the team and decent defensively, while Kemp probably serves in the best cross in the absence of Espindola.
Jairo Arrieta and Chris Rolfe will likely be the starting forwards, both of whom have over five goals so far this year. The weakest link will likely be Conor Doyle starting a left midfield; typically a forward, he has started to show more promise on the wing, but nothing is for sure yet. If Pontius could start over him, that would be great.
BDS2. Ben Olsen went from playing to assistant coach to permanent head coach in the span of 12-13 months. DC United weathered some absolutely horrendous seasons while he learned on the job, a textbook trial by fire. The great news is that it has paid off. What lessons did the United legend learn in those early years to gain the sort of success we see today?
Black and Red Ben: Most of the lessons learned were by Ben Olsen, since only Bill Hamid and Chris Pontius remain from when he was named permanent head coach in November 2010. The first thing that Olsen has learned is how to get the most out of a limit budget and out of a team that never has superstars. That has meant installing a system that is not widely loved by fans, but that is able to consistently get results in Major League Soccer.
The second major lesson he learned, along with general manager Dave Kasper, was that you have to be constantly improving your team in order to stay afloat in MLS. They did not do so after the 2012 season: they thought that team was good enough for another playoff run, and it ended up being one of the worst teams in MLS history. After winning the US Open Cup and retooling for 2014, they did well once again; however, they did not rest on their laurels this past offseason as they did previously. They continued to bring in new players like Markus Halsti, Michael Farfan, Jairo Arrieta, and Facundo Coria. At their best, Ben Olsen teams have a level of competition across all positions that keeps everyone sharp.
BDS3. FC Dallas loves its homegrown players, and so I want to ask about a Texan at DCU. While not technically an MLS Homegrown player, Conor Doyle is from McKinney, TX and caught on with United after a few injuries at Derby County encouraged a loan stateside. What role does he fulfill for the black and red? How do you rate Doyle's development at DCU; how much more of an upside does he gave to gain?
Black and Red Ben: As mentioned briefly above, Doyle is kind of between two different roles right now. Initially, he ended being a sort of defensive forward: brought in during the second half to harry opposing defense and midfields and to hold the ball and waste some time. However, as is problematic for forwards, he was never much of a goal threat from that position. Recently, however, he has been spending more time on the left wing, and has actually been serving in some decent crosses, playing with the energy Ben Olsen requires, and he scored a nice goal from the wing. I think if he has a future in this league, it would be as more of a target winger rather than a target forward, and we will see through the rest of this season and perhaps beyond if that transition can happen.
Predicted lineup and match prediction:
Black and Red Ben:
Andrew Dykstra; Chris Korb, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp; Nick DeLeon, Markus Halsti, Perry Kitchen, Conor Doyle; Jairo Arrieta, Chris Rolfe.
I would love to predict 4-1 United, because that seems to happen on a semi-regular basis, but that won't happen here. 2-1 FC Dallas is what I predict.
Now here are my answers to Ben's questions:
BRB1. How has FC Dallas gotten over this year's midseason slump?
BDS: It's crazy to think about, but I realized this week that FC Dallas didn't really have a traditional spring swoon this year. The 5-game roadtrip definitely impacted the team. If you remove that block of games, however, Dallas is 9-2-3. I don't think Dallas has any noticeable slump if those road games had been evenly distributed in the schedule.
So to answer your question: they kept doing the same thing that they were doing at the beginning of the season. Mauro Diaz is the creative spark, Fabian Castillo breaks defenders ankle dribbling toward goal, and the Dallas defense quietly grinds on.
Player health is a huge talking point. For the past few seasons when talking about FCD's slumps, injury has been a common theme. This year, international call-ups have caused more missed games. My colleague, Scott, at BDS says that only 6 players have missed a match due to injury so far. At this same point last year, that number was 15. The other factor to the club's success has been the defense which hasn't raised much attention yet. Although FCD has now suffered 3 four-goal defeats in all competitions in 2015 (ugh!), Dallas is tied for 2nd in the league with 8 shutouts so far; only Kansas City has more with 9 shutouts in 2015.
BRB2. How has Matt Hedges fared this year with a new partner who is just learning center back after being a fullback for so long? Do you think he still has a chance to catch Jurgen's eye, or has that time (strangely) passed?
BDS: Matt is really doing well. He has fully embraced his role as team captain, bossing around the defense to keep the backline in order. Although Zach Loyd is not traditionally a centerback for Dallas, he did play one in college. So Loyd is familiar with the expectations of that role versus fullback, but also he knows Matt well, having been on the team together now for 4 years. Matt's passing game is improving, and I think that is a crucial point for his national team chances.
I don't know what Jurgen is thinking; there must be a method tucked inside his head for roster selection. Though, I don't think Matt's time with the USMNT is over. Either under Jurgen or with the next coach (whenever that happens), Hedges is capable of earning another cap. Matt struggled with injury briefly this year, so that could have impacted his standing in the depth chart. Since he is such a cornerstone of this FC Dallas team, I think it will take him pushing his teammates toward silverware to catch Jurgen's eye again.
BRB3. Everyone knows that D.C. United have to try and limit Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo, but who is an under the radar player they should fear?
BDS: You want the answer to this question to be a flashy striker or dangerous super-sub who can Hulk-smash a game off the bench. But honestly, it has to be Victor Ulloa. I feel like I mention him every week because he still isn't getting much attention outside of North Texas. Vic is a defensive midfielder who has been absolutely crushing it this season. He is a local kid who was signed to a homegrown contract a few years ago. The previous coach never gave him a chance, and his contract was waived. Luckily for all of us, Oscar Pareja was hired shortly there after and brought Vic back for a trial. Ulloa earned a starting spot sometime last summer and hasn't stopped running since.
The guy controls the midfield better than anyone else Dallas has had recently. He can be a big part of the reason why Mauro Diaz gets the ball to begin his magic. Vic is also part of the reason why the defense is able to perform so well at times, causing enough problems for opposing midfielders that he can win the ball or at least slow them down for Dallas defenders. Expect Ulloa to play the full 90 minutes.