Ugh, once again I must lead with the fact that Dallas are one win – one win – away from 60 points. It should not be this way, but after the tough loss last week in DC, Dallas is in the same rut. This week sees the Hoops take on Western Conference contender and arch-rival Sporting Kansas City.
SKC comes down to Texas in the wake of their big win on Thursday night against Vancouver. The 4-1 thrashing puts SKC one point behind Dallas with 56 points on the season and tied with LAFC for second/third in the West. Dallas are still on top by the skin of their teeth, with 57 points. A win solidifies a top two seed for the playoffs while a loss could see them drop to third, depending on other results.
A quick check of the schedule shows the outcomes of the top of the conference. Dallas and SKC play this week while SKC and LAFC play next week. All three teams, depending on results could be dropped to third place or jump to first. Seattle is also lingering – waiting to jump up from fourth to some unknown point – as high as first (if they win their last two). Go check out Ben Lyon’s nice breakdown to see how all of these permutations can potentially play out.
With everything at stake this week in what is essentially a playoff game for playoff seeding we welcome – err, allow – Sporting KC to come down to Texas to get this thing moving. This is the third meeting between these two teams this season, with each team having a win against the other. SKC won the first round with a win (and knockout) against Dallas during the US Open Cup in Kansas City way back in June. Dallas got their payback with a win, again in KC, a month later; but this week brings the biggest stakes yet.
In the past, one criticism/weakness of Peter Vermes was his reliance on a set starting eleven and three subs and that was it. He would wear the team out as the season went along and it ultimately hurt their end of season and playoff chances. This is one of the reasons often given for the annual SKC summer swoon. So, it makes me wonder if this season is different because of circumstances outside his control. Injuries crushed SKC earlier this season and lingered throughout the summer. Vermes has been forced to rotate his squad all season, which, besides providing uneven results early on, may actually have added the benefit of creating depth for the back half of the season. Couple that with the extra international time in June and the results speak for themselves. Not only are the Wizards back to full strength, with Ike Opara and Kristian Nemeth now among the XI, but they have been in fine form. Since their loss to Dallas in July, SKC have seven wins to go with two losses and two draws and have pushed themselves up the standings. After their loss to Dallas, SKC went on a four game shut-out streak but have only posted one since. Their past three games have seen them give up only one goal per game, but they are giving chances away that some better finishing would take advantage of.
What’s really driving Sporting this season is their new-found offense. They have 60 goals on the season which is more than they have had since…the first season of MLS – back in 1996, when they finished with 61. Because it’s all about the offense, we can expect SKC to keep lots of possession – averaging 55% on the season – and take a deluge of shots – about 17 per game. In fact, SKC are second in average possession, first in shots, first in pass accuracy and – picks up salt shaker – first in average player rating (all stats from WhoScored.com). What makes it interesting is that SKC don’t have any individual leaders in any of those stats, it’s more of a group effort. Two players are tied for the team lead at nine goals apiece with one more having eight and another with seven. Johnny Russel leads the team with 10 assists but there is also a nine, a seven, two people with six – and so on down the line. The point is, everyone is contributing, top to bottom. And that is what makes Sporting so dangerous. Although Johnny Russell is the leader in goals and assists, you can’t just focus on him, others have proven they will step up.
For Dallas, this means a full team effort with full energy. Last game was not a bad game. Dallas was unlucky a few times – but also a bit wasteful. The Hoops need everyone dialed in and clicking this week, because even though DC is on a hot streak (won again the other night) Sporting is a better team overall. This means we need a striker or winger to STEP UP and score. I’m not even going to worry about the defense as it pertains to last game. That goal was wild and the defense overall was very solid; a nice trend that needs to continue as the season closes and the playoffs begin.
Key Matchup: FCD Attackers vs SKC
There is no point singling out a player this week. We just need someone to score a goal…and then another, and maybe someone else chip in too. I’ve said it before, I’m not picky. It can be Maxi or Badji. Lamah picking things up again would be nice. Last time against SKC it was Barrios who broke his looong goal drought. Whoever it is, it just needs to happen. Dallas has been shut out in three of its last five matches – but then in the other two games they have scored two goals in each. If the trend continues this will be a multi goal game. Fingers crossed.
1. Someone Score – That is all.
2. Subs – I’m sure you, astute fan, picked up on the rather random substitution pattern of Prince Aranguiz™ these past few games. After being an unused sub in almost 4 straight games (2 minutes does not count in my book), he started against Orlando then had another two-minute cameo against DC. I know I’m not the only fan of his, but his playing time has been erratic for almost two months. Instead we get subs like Tesho or Badji (or Mosquera, who is blameless in this regard). I am just befuddled by Coach P’s decision making in both starting lineup and substitutes. Am I the only one?
3. Close Strong – Two games left, and the defense has been closing in on its early season form. This is a great sign and should provide Dallas, regardless of playoff seeding, a good foundation to succeed this year in the chase for the MLS Cup. Keep up the good work.
I thought the result last week would be 1-0 (in the other way of course) and I keep coming back to that score line this week. Sporting is good – no shame in admitting it – and have plenty of attacking options to cause Dallas problems. But they aren’t the only ones fighting for playoff seeding. Dallas is good too and has just as much to gain or lose. Combine the fact that Dallas is home and SKC is traveling almost straight from Canada and…I don’t know. This feels more like a toss-up than I would like to admit. But I don’t think we draw, it’s not good for either team. So…ugh…I think it’s 2-1…Dallas.