FC Dallas is coming off a comfortable 2-0 victory at home against Philadelphia in which the Union never really put up a challenge. Fabian Castillo had his way with the Philly defense, scoring the first goal of the season for FC Dallas and celebrating with his teammates in a "Casti-Row."
Maxi Urruti was active all 90 minutes, demonstrating his connection with Argentinian countryman Mauro Diaz on the game-sealing goal. Carlos Gruezo impressed on his Dallas debut, winning the ball repeatedly and distributing it to all of his attacking teammates.
The defense held firm and earned a clean sheet. Atiba Harris pushed high up the field to overlap Barrios, leaving three in the back while Dallas was on offense. This overload reduced Fabinho to a stumbling liability. Walker Zimmerman was a surprise starter, having impressed Coach Oscar Pareja with his hustle and hunger in the offseason. Zimmerman was a beast in the air, heading the ball clear seven times as Philly couldn't do much but keep booting the ball down the field. Matt Hedges had another solid performance like we've come to expect. Maynor Figueroa proved to be a quality addition to the team, locking down the left flank and allowing Fabi to run free.
The Houston Dynamo kicked off their season with a thrilling 3-3 draw at home against the New England Revolution. The Revs went up in the 3rd minute when Jalil Anibaba's wonky clearance fell right to Diego Fagundez, who rocketed a volley into the top corner from 22 yards. Ricardo Clark lined up next to Alex at defensive midfielder, but acted more like the central midfielder he was last season, leaving a gap between the defense and midfield. David Horst had an uncharacteristically bad game, looking vulnerable against New England's speed. DeMarcus Beasley pulled down Lee Nguyen in the box as Nguyen got a step on him, but it wasn't called. Joe Willis had to step in for the injured Tyler Deric and couldn't do much about the frequent defensive breakdowns in front of him. Raul Rodriguez was the lone bright spot on the backline, with a game-high 8 interceptions.
Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger proved to be excellent offseason additions to the Dynamo. "Chaco" Maidana replaced Brad Davis' pinpoint left-footed passing and then some, drifting all over the field and sparking the Dynamo offense from every angle. He even scored a rare goal, although it came about due to miscommunication between Jose Goncalves and Bobby Shuttleworth. Andrew Wenger, a jack-of-all-trades who can play anywhere on the field, was deployed at right midfield and looked fast and strong. On Houston's second goal, he won the ball in the opponent's half, played a give-and-go, and slotted the ball past the goalkeeper on the return. Giles Barnes and Will Bruin contributed to a potent Dynamo attack. One talking point was that Erick Torres remained stashed on the bench as Coach Owen Coyle opted for U-20 Colombian international Mauro Manotas, who arrived in MLS from Uniautónoma at the beginning of 2015 like Michael Barrios. Unfortunately for the effective Dynamo offense, the team had to settle for a draw as the defense let in a late equalizer when Daigo Kobayashi was left unmarked in the center of the box, capping off a day of defensive lapses.
Topping the Injury Report for FC Dallas is Fabian Castillo, who was stretchered off with an abductor injury. He is officially listed as "Questionable," but I don't think he'll be risked. Pareja has several options at his disposal to replace Castillo in the lineup, including Tesho Akindele, Ryan Hollingshead, and Mauro Rosales. I would like to see Hollingshead, who led all outside midfielders in defensive actions per 90 in MLS last year, slot in on the right to limit DaMarcus Beasley's gallivanting runs. This switches Michael Barrios to the left to run at the shaky Jalil Anibaba. Pareja might decide to push his own attacking agenda and put Akindele or Rosales on the left.
For Houston, goalkeeper Tyler Deric will be out once again, so Joe Willis will get the start. Sheanon Williams is back in practice, but is not expected to be fully fit for the game. If he's not ready to go, Jalil Anibaba will play again. DaMarcus Beasley picked up an undisclosed injury, and Owen Coyle is "hopeful" he can play Saturday.
Make sure to watch the battle in midfield between each team's creative playmaker and the opposition's defensive midfielders. Expect Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta to pay close attention to Maidana's position at all times. Pareja may even play Victor Ulloa specifically to lock down Chaco. On the other side of the ball, Diaz will be able to exploit the space behind the midfield if Ricardo Clark is tactically sloppy like he was against New England.
How to watch:
Kickoff: Saturday, March 12, 7:30pm central
Venue: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX
TV: TXA-21, MLS LIVE
Weather Forecast: Night-time, partly cloudy, 72 degrees at kickoff. Wind 7 mph out of the SW. Should be a comfortable environment for both teams.
Projected Starting Lineups: