One of the few teams who elected to play during the international break, FC Dallas had no lull in performance even with 2 defenders and the goalkeeper making their season debuts. FC Dallas academy product Aaron Guillen, typically a center back, stepped in at left back. While he did concede a penalty kick, his performance otherwise was very good for a 22 year old making his MLS debut. Zach Loyd stepped into the lineup and looked to be in mid-season form, leading the team with 4 blocks and 6 interceptions. Chris Seitz stopped a penalty kick as his defense held D.C. United to only 2 shots on goal.
Michael Barrios had both first half goals, his first two of the year, earning him MLS Player of the Week honors. "Mikey is putting himself in great spots. The last three games he had some options. He is always working hard," said Oscar Pareja. "I’m not surprised to see how the game rewarded him today and gave him those two opportunities. He finished very well. The effort from Mikey is there all the time. It’s something we have working for us and I am very pleased for him." On the other flank, Fabian Castillo led the team with 7 tackles as he aided Guillen defensively. Fabi managed to chip in at the attacking end as well as he assisted Maximiliano Urruti to put the dagger in United’s coffin. Urruti has proven to be an excellent offseason acquisition as he has 3 goals in 4 games, tied for second in the league. Mauro Diaz leads the league in assists with 4 while no one else has more than 2.
As is the pattern during Pareja's tenure as head coach, Dallas conceded possession in order to open space behind defenders on the counter attack. FC Dallas had the ball a mere 38% of the time in the first half against D.C. while leading 2-0 at the break. Columbus loves to possess the ball, with 54% possession in each of the last 2 years. Will they keep the same game plan on the road in Frisco? After the season opener against Portland, head coach Gregg Berhalter said, "What we've seen from the opponent thus far is that we've been having a lot more possession as we expect and sometimes even in the case of Portland where they play very conservative at home and then play for a counterattack. So that's something we have to deal with and we have to get used to."
FC Dallas now has 3 games in which they scored multiple goals and kept a clean sheet. Dallas has 7 goals and is tied with Vancouver for most shots on goal with 27. With two shutout wins in the last two weeks, Dallas will look to put the Houston debacle further in the rearview mirror with a win a home vs. Columbus. FC Dallas has a dominant record in Frisco, with 23 wins in their last 28 regular season home games. Dallas also comes into the match with the better current form, while Columbus is stumbling.
Columbus Crew SC has had a rough start to the season, losing at Portland Timbers and at home vs. Philadelphia Union, and then drawing at Chicago Fire. "We have to come to terms with the fact that we have a target on our backs," Berhalter said. "We have to get comfortable with it and we have to play with more urgency, with more determination, and then we can win games."
In three games, Columbus has only scored twice. As Jason Poon pointed out in the "Squad Selection" article, their Expected Goals is 4.11, suggesting that they are either unlucky or aren't finishing their chances well. According to Massive Report, Berhalter said he would be more concerned if there were fewer chances.
Ethan Finlay has been a disappointment this year, struggling with physical defenders, and now he has to line up across from Maynor Figueroa. Finlay's greatest skill is getting to the endline, but so far he has not found space. After the Chicago game, Berhalter said "I think he was active today. This was his best game so far this year. And he’s getting into form. That’s going to be important for us because he is so valuable for us. And what he gives us is a work rate; he gives us great timing of runs right in front of goal. And very good execution."
Federico Higuain scored a beautiful bicycle kick against Portland, but has yet to get into a smooth offensive flow. Who will FC Dallas deploy at defensive mid to clog his passing lanes? Carlos Gruezo and Victor Ulloa were dominant against both Montreal Impact and D.C. United. With Kellyn Acosta playing two tough games with the U.S. U-23s against Colombia this week, it is likely that he gets some rest.
Columbus loves to take the ball down the wings and cross it to Kei Kamara, the league's best forward at heading balls. To combat this threat, Pareja will probably return Walker Zimmerman to the starting lineup. Kamara became a DP this offseason, but has only one goal to show for it so far. Columbus' fullbacks, Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis, love to bomb down the flanks. But with the threat of Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios, will they be constrained to stay at home?
Several players for each team were on international duty last weekend. Kellyn Acosta played 180 minutes for the US U-23s versus Colombia while Walker Zimmerman was an unused sub. Moises Hernandez played center back for Guatemala as they defeated and then lost to the U.S. Atiba Harris captained the Sugar Boyz of Saint Kitts and Nevis to two wins in Caribbean Cup qualifying versus Aruba and Antigua and Barbuda. For Honduras, Maynor Figueroa played home and away against El Salvador, drawing one and winning one. Canada lost two World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Tesho Akindele was a late sub in each. Jesse Gonzalez was with the Mexico U-23s as they played friendlies against Japan and Portugal.
With all international players back in practice and available, I think we see the same lineup that Oscar Pareja deployed against Montreal.
For Columbus, Wil Trapp went the distance twice for the US U-23s at defensive midfielder. Ethan Finlay was unused for the USA in the away leg but played 19 minutes in Columbus. Rodrigo Saravia was on the other side of the ball, playing 180 minutes at defensive mid for Guatemala. Harrison Afful flew to Africa and back as he played right back for Ghana home and away versus Mozambique in African Cup of Nations qualifying. Tony Tchani was cap-tied for Cameroon in the same competition, playing against South Africa.
Justin Meram had offseason surgery, but started and played 76 minutes against Chicago. "You could tell he was a little uncertain. I told him as he is coming off the field that what I’m most happy and proud is his work," said Berhalter. "He gave everything he had. It wasn’t perfect. You can see he’s a little rusty. He’s getting back into form. His effort was exceptional. I’m happy about that." Conor Casey and Ola Kamara are questionable with injury and may or may not make the bench.
How to watch:
Kickoff: Saturday, April 2nd, 8:00pm central
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
TV: TXA-21, MLS LIVE
Weather Forecast: Night-time, clear, 65 degrees at kickoff. Wind 10 mph. A lovely spring evening.
Projected Starting Lineups: