FC Dallas enters the 2016 season healthy and hungry. After coming off a 2015 season where the team finished Best in the West, FCD is considered by most MLS pundits to be the favorite to win the Western Conference again. FC Dallas played fewer preseason games than other MLS teams due to a cancelled trip to Colombia. The team played well in the games they did play, demolishing Salvadorian champion Alianza FC 4-0 and defeating Oklahoma City Energy FC 2-1 with a mostly reserve team. Newcomers Carlos Gruezo, Maxi Urruti, and Maynor Figueroa have comfortably integrated into the squad and will be expected to contribute immediately. Dallas has core players entering their primes in Fabian Castillo, Mauro Diaz, and Matt Hedges and an outstanding crop of Homegrown in Jesse Gonzalez, Kellyn Acosta, and Victor Ulloa.
The Philadelphia Union were one of the worst teams in the league last year. In the offseason, new Sporting Director Earnie Stewart jettisoned half the roster. Assist generator Cristian Maidana and jack-of-all-trades Andrew Wenger were sent to Houston Dynamo. The club’s first ever homegrown player, Zach Pfeffer, was traded to Colorado Rapids. Loans for foreigners Steven Vitoria and Aristeguieta were not extended.
Josh Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry were drafted from the stalwart Georgetown defense. Maurice Edu will return to a defensive midfield role, although Edu is doubtful to play in this Sunday’s game. The acquisition of attacking midfielder Roland Alberg is the beginning of Earnie Stewart’s Dutch moneyball influence. Chris Pontius could provide some attacking verve if he can stay healthy. CJ Sapong is the only option at forward, and has pledged to contribute 20 goals.
The turnaround for Philly has just begun. Stewart and Curtin have trimmed the fat and brought in several young players. The playoffs are not yet a realistic target. They might even take a step back before they can take a step forward.
In the preseason, the Union lost 0-1 to Jacksonville Armada FC, defeated the US U-17s 5-0, lost 2-4 to Chicago, drew DC United 1-1, beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0, drew the Red Bulls 0-0, and beat Toronto FC 1-0. Brazilian winger Ilsinho, who in 2008 scored a Champions League goal for Shakhtar Donetsk against FC Barcelona, impressed coach Jim Curtin and won a roster spot. Ken Tribbett, who played for USL team Harrisburg City Islanders last season, has won a starting center back slot.
FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez was injured during the warmup in OKC. At Cocktails and Cleats, I asked him if he was OK and if he would start this weekend and he said, "Yeah, I’m better. Probably." I fully expect that he will start. FC Dallas’ Injury Report is blank. Philadelphia will be missing starting CDM Maurice Edu and starting RM Tranquillo Barnetta, leaving holes in midfield that Mauro Diaz will surely exploit.
What happens when a top team at home meets a bottom feeder with half of the roster turned over and missing key players? Three of Philadelphia’s likely starters on the backline will be making their MLS debuts. This game will probably get out of hand.
How to watch:
Kickoff: Sunday, March 6th, 2:00pm central
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
TV: TXA-21, MLS LIVE
Weather Forecast: Sunny, 72 degrees. No chance of rain. Wind out of the SSE at 24 mph will blow end-to-end, making the field asymmetrical. The weather should not impact FC Dallas significantly since they like to play on the ground. How much will the wind hamper Philly as they will be on the back foot and looking to bomb clearances up the field?
Projected Starting Lineups: