Coming off a devastating 5-0 loss in the Texas Derby, FC Dallas is looking to bounce back. Against the Houston Dynamo, the Hoops came out flat and found themselves down by four goals within 28 minutes. I expect that Papi will have his troops fired up against Montreal, with an emphasis of starting strong at home. FC Dallas will look to continue their stellar home performance in 2016 after going 13-2-2 last year.
The Dallas backline had a particularly bad night in Houston, with a lack of communication and confidence evident. But don't expect any major changes from Oscar Pareja, who said, "I think it would be a mistake for me to analyze and make conclusions in the second game of the league. There's still 32 games more to go. This is a long journey." However, Atiba Harris was pulled at halftime in favor of Ryan Hollingshead, who stabilized the right wing in the second half. If Pareja were to make a change to his backline, it would be to start Hollingshead over Harris.
Jesse Gonzalez also had a poor showing, conceding 5 goals for the first time in his career. Pareja backed his young keeper after the game, stating, "He made mistakes, but I still consider Jesse one of the top goalkeepers in America and Mexico. I'm not going to run just because one of my young players made mistakes in the game. That would be very unfair." Expect Jesse to continue to start when he is healthy and not away on international duty with Mexico.
In central midfield, Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta showed that they have some kinks to work out. Neither provided the defensive grit needed to lock down the center of the park. With two other quality midfielders sitting on the bench, Pareja might decide to begin the defensive midfielder rotation and start Victor Ulloa, especially with the threat of Ignacio Piatti and Harrison Shipp in Montreal's midfield.
The front four for Dallas appears to be solidified. Dallas surprisingly led Houston in shots and shots on goal, which are two of the few positives to take away from that game. Mauro Diaz looked to be the only Dallas player interested in attempting to win. Maximiliano Urruti was isolated and in that scenario I would like to see him drop back and fight to recover the ball instead of starving for supply. With Castillo healthy, I don't foresee any changes to Dallas' attack.
Montreal has been the hottest team in MLS after two weeks, taking down the Whitecaps in Vancouver by a score of 3-2 and then knocking off reigning Supporters' Shield winners New York Red Bulls at home 3-0. Many pundits, including myself, wondered where the goals would come from with Didier Drogba sitting out games played on turf. Ignacio Piatti has stepped up and played at MVP-level. Against Vancouver, he provided 2 goals and an assist and versus New York he added another goal and assist. Dominic Oduro, whom many readers of this blog will remember from his time in Dallas, has tallied a goal in each game to ease the absence of Drogba.
Piatti lines up as a central attacking midfielder, but loves to drift left. Coach Mauro Biello has stationed Harry Shipp on the left flank to combine with Piatti. Nearly all of the Impact's attacks go down the left side of the field. This solidifies my feeling that 2015 league leader in defensive actions per 90 by a fullback, Ryan Hollingshead, needs to be deployed at right back for Dallas.
Check out Montreal's network passing graph from their first game, based upon data by Opta and made by MLSSoccer.com (Piatti is #10 and Shipp is #14):
You probably already know reigning MLS Defender of the Year Laurent Ciman. Ciman has excellent positioning, allowing him to tackle and recover the ball with apparent ease. Pay attention to his distribution as well in this game, as he led all center backs in Key Passes last year.
Right-winger Lucas Ontivero has been quiet so far this year. He might lose his place if Drogba enters the lineup and pushes Dom Oduro out wide.
Former FC Dallas draftee Eric Alexander will start at defensive mid. He's known for his quiet composure, but watch how he cycles the ball side-to-side to his wingers. Backpass specialist Kyle Bekker might see some limited action but is unlikely to ever actually pass the ball positively.
Fabian Castillo has recovered more quickly than expected from his adductor strain and is available for Dallas. There are no significant injuries to report for the Hoops.
Montreal talisman Didier Drogba, who has declared he will not play on turf this year, has sat out Montreal's first two games. He has traveled to Dallas and will be in the 18, although he is probably not full-game fit and will likely only play 45 minutes. "Didier is an important player for us," Biello said. "We don't have to change much if he plays. Everyone knows what he can do. We're waiting for him to be 100 percent ready to rejoin the team, and then he'll be available. I'll then make a decision on how he'll help us."
Ambroise Oyongo has picked up an injury this week and will probably be replaced with Hassoun Camara at right back. Marco Donadel is questionable with a leg injury, and Calum Mallace took his spot in defensive midfield last game. Andres Romero, Cameron Porter, and Patrice Bernier are out with long-term injuries.
Will Dallas bounce back and deliver a strong performance at home against the hottest team in MLS?
How to watch:
Kickoff: Saturday, March 19, 8:00pm central
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
TV: TXA-21, MLS LIVE
Weather Forecast: Night-time, clear, 52 degrees at kickoff. Wind 6 mph out of the NE. A cool spring evening.
Projected Starting Lineups: