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FC Dallas vs Philadelphia Union: Preview, Scouting Report, and Three Keys

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How does the Union look after a few weeks into the season?

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Philadelphia Union Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Ok, let’s start off with the eating of crow. FC Dallas went out and won in New England after I called for a loss. Yay! They mostly dominated a good team on a hot streak. Double yay! But once again, the offense continued to waste chance after chance. This week’s opponent also beat New England, by a 3-0 margin, to open the season and yet in every game since has echoed the sentence above - they have wasted chance after chance. Let’s dive in on the Philadelphia Union.

Dallas’ play last week was encouraging for two reasons, and disappointing for one. The encouraging part is that we got a win in our first road game of the season while creating some really good chances. Front to back, everyone had a solid game. Maurer made some great saves in front of the net, the defense did a solid job in limiting New England’s attack, and the midfield and forwards created great opportunities time and time again. The disappointing part is that we wasted all but one of those great chances. It was enough, but only just.

Apart from winning and defense, Philadelphia have been writing that paragraph every week for almost a month. Andre Blake is a great keeper who makes incredible saves look routine. Philadelphia’s defense is the youngest group in the league, so it’s not surprising to see them give up some tough goals, but they are growing and that’s a plus. The midfield and forwards have created plenty of chances, but no one seems to be able to finish. Literally every single match review is some refrain about missed chances. Here is an excerpt from an article earlier this week that sums it all up:

“The offense has looked like a collection of parts rather than a well-oiled machine. Accam, CJ Sapong and Fafa Picault have been unable to score, despite numerous chances to do so. The new number ten looks like all the old number tens before him: ineffective. The crosses are not connecting with anyone. The players may be different, but the tactics and quality of play still remain the same, stalled forever.”

Speaking of tactics, let’s take a quick look. As mentioned above, wing play and crossing is the focus of the offense, and probably as it should be. CJ Sapong is a powerful forward and the addition of David Accam should have, in theory, led to better service, and another dynamic goal scorer. Sapong had 16 goals last season and Accam had 14. This team (and fan base) is crying out for a better midfield, one that can open space and push forward with key runs and passes. The signing of Dockal, the new No. 10, was supposed to help with this issue, but the returns have not yet come in. Alejandro Bedoya is still their best creator from midfield. Make of that what you will.

We can expect Accam to be a handful for the defense, again, attacking Reggie Cannon. CJ Sapong is the type of forward who always seems to give Matt Hedges fits. His physicality and aerial ability will test our two center backs. I expect Dallas to have a healthy possession number, so we will have to be wary of counter attacks, especially from those two just mentioned. Dallas’ possession game should be able to feast on such a young Philadelphia backline, especially if Cirstian Colman is playing and able to create space like last game. The Union tend to have their lines pulled apart, leaving loads of space between the midfield and defense. That’s a recipe for disaster against Mauro Diaz and the wingers/forwards. One major topic amongst the Big D Staff has been Colman vs Urruti and this is a fascinating game for each. The case can be made that Maxi thrives in open space and against inattentive (i.e. young) defenders. But last game Colman created space and opportunities for everyone else in the attack. I don’t know who would be better in this game, but I’m sure Coach Pareja has the answer.

Key Matchup

Matt Hedges vs CJ Sapong - I won’t pick on Reggie again. He continues to prove himself over and over again. Accam will be his stiffest test to date, but I won’t doubt him until he gives me a reason too. Anton “the Bulgarian Bruiser” Nedyalkov has also been solid on the wing and shouldn’t have too much trouble with Picault. This leaves Hedges and Ziegler left to deal with CJ Sapong. Considering his height and immobility (compared to Ziegler) I think Hedges matches up most of the day with Sapong. He has to, has to, has to win every aerial duel that comes into the box. He must track Sapong and coordinate with Reggie in containing Accam. If neither of those things happen, Philadelphia could probably come due on some of their missed chances.

Keys to the Game

1. Building on the Offense - I will continue to harp on this, but just creating chances is not good enough for this team. Dallas needs to start finding the back of the net more than once a game to survive. We created lots of good chances last game, build on that by scoring more than once this game.

2. Control the Flow - “Possession is 9/10s of the game.” I’m sure Pep Guardiola has this on a bulletin board in the Man City locker room (maybe even a tattoo). But the reason is more about control of the game and control of the other team. Dallas at their best is a possession based team. We need to use that possession to control how this game flows, much like we did against New England.

3. Where’s Barrios - As pointed out by our studious Jared Tilley in his Good, Bad, and Ugly article, Michael Barrios has been bad. Like, MIA bad. His head down drives to the touchline, and misfiring crosses have been ineffective. He had a great season last year, registering 14 assists. He should be a big part of our offense. But he needs to get it together quick, or as Mr. Tilley observed, he will be replaced.

I am going to lead with my prediction. I think we draw 1-1 with Philadelphia. I know I talked a big game up above, but I’m in a need-to-see-to-believe mode with our offense. We keep talking about created chances and finishing and frankly, that’s all it is. Until someone, anyone, on FC Dallas starts scoring, I can’t endorse anything more than one goal a game. And against my better judgement, I am going to say that Accam or Sapong is “due” a goal. It’s a gamblers fallacy, but I just think it happens this week. Once again, Dallas, please prove me wrong.