FC Dallas pulled out a squeaker in Minnesota on Friday with a 1-0 over the Loons. This Wednesday Atlanta pulls in to town for a big game as two of the top teams in the league square off. Having won three and drawn three in the last six games, Atlanta comes in with 37 points, first place in the East and number one overall in the race for the Supports Shield.
Dallas struggled mightily against a creative Minnesota last game, but still pulled out the 1-0 win. That makes five wins in their last six MLS games and pulls them level on points with Sporting Kansas City for first place in the West with, 32 points.
Once the calendar flips to July (well maybe June), I can’t help but wonder how teams will handle the heat in the metroplex. Everyone talks about how awful it is to play Dallas and Houston at home during the summer because of the heat. How it’s soooo awful and unfair and they wonder audibly why we can’t play on the European calendar. I often wonder if that type of thinking really affects the visiting teams or if it’s just whiny fans complaining amongst themselves.
Atlanta isn’t exactly the coolest climate, and I know they practice outdoors (at a beautiful practice facility, I might add) during the week, so maybe this won’t be as much of an advantage as we want. But I certainly hope so. I want Martinez and Barco and Almiron to wilt in the heat. I want Atlanta to plead for two water breaks per half. I want the heat in their heads, because every single little advantage is going to matter in this game.
Atlanta is a team that likes to both posses the ball and counter attack, seemingly all at the same time. They are absolutely deadly when out on the break, fresh off a turnover or clearance. Miguel Almiron is one of the very best in the league when the ball is at his feet. He has 8 goals and 7 assists on the season and is the string puller when Atlanta gets out running. He can unlock a defense with one pass, but don’t let that fool you. With 79 shots on the season he is also the leading shot taker on the team by a staggering 35. Josef Martinez, the league leading scorer, only has 44. Speaking of Martinez, one stat says it all - his goals per 90 of .90 is absurd. That basically says he scores almost a goal per game. His 15 goals are more than any Dallas player has scored in 7 years, and it’s only the beginning of July. (To be fair, Lamah is on pace to end that drought.)
Of course, Atlanta is more than just two incredibly talented soccer players. Atlanta “won” the winter signing period when they brought in winger/midfielder Ezequiel Barco. He hasn’t quite become the league MVP many predicted upon his signing, but 4 goals and an assist is not a bad return for his first 3 months in the league. They also added Darlington Nagbe. The former Portland star was having a quiet season, but is still a dangerous player. He is out for this game though due to injury. Atlanta’s 2017 draft pick Julien Gressel has had six assists and shown steady growth from last season. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Brad Guzan lead a solid defense that has only allowed twenty goals on the season. Leading the league in goal scoring with 38 and being top 5 in goals allowed. only 20, is a recipe for success.
In order for Dallas to come away with points this game, it’s imperative to keep the Atlanta attack from breaking free. Carlos Gruezo will be in charge of keeping Almiron in check; but his midfield partner, either Hayes, Acosta, or Ulloa will need to track Barco. Keeping Martinez and speedy winger Hector Zillalba from breaking free will come down to a solid game plan from the back line. In the transition to offense, Dallas can be equally as terrifying as the Five Stripes with Urruti, Barrios, et al storming down the wings. The key will be finishing the chances we have, because you can be sure Atlanta will finish theirs. Depending on if Mosquera makes an appearance in the starting 11 or not, Dallas has the fire power to keep pace with Atlanta. Mo’ brings a creative edge no one else on the roster can match (anymore), and it is imperative he gets more game time than the last match, and frankly, more starts from this point forward.
Key Matchup: Hedges/Ziegler vs Martinez
I know some of you must think, “No duh, the center backs are always important in stopping the opposing teams striker.” I get it, that evaluation isn’t lost on me. But in this case, it is absolutely vital that Hedges and Ziegler be up for the challenge that is coming their way. Martinez is one of - if not the best - striker in the league. He is a handful all on his own. But the way Atlanta plays, with the quick counter attacks and through balls, Martinez is able to use his speed against teams. Hedges isn’t the quickest cat, but his positioning is what separates him from the lesser CBs in the league. Ziegler is quicker, but not absurdly so. If we set up an offside trap, it has to be perfect. If we send Hedges up for corners or set pieces, Dallas has to keep extra help back. This is one of the few teams that can absolutely burn the opposing team with just one outlet pass.
- More Mosquera - Did you notice when Mosquera subbed on against Minnesota, our offense seemed to kick into gear? Me too. And so did everyone on staff here at Big D. I don’t know if it’s Pareja’s intent for Mosquera to be a super sub or something, but Mo’ needs to be starting this game: our attack looks dead without him on the field.
- Formation Debate - Last week we pondered what formation Dallas would come out in, as the team moved on from Mauro Diaz. Well, a 4-3-3 was the answer, but it didn’t look to serve the purpose that Coach P wanted. Pomykal on the wing with Lamah as a creative hub? Ulloa and Gruezo in midfield for defensive stability? Neither plan worked. Coach has made a number of good formation adjustments this season, but that wasn’t one of them. For this game, he has to get it right.
- A Little Luck - No, I’m not talking about Barrios - but his scoring or assisting would be helpful. I’m hoping we catch Atlanta on an off-night. Maybe see a lucky penalty. Any bounce our way and not theirs would help me breathe a little easier. Dallas has had a good season, with good and bad results. Tonight, I’m just hoping to get lucky. Er…um…you know what I meant.
The Hoops were on quite the roll over the month of June. Even most of our Big D staff seemed cautiously optimistic. Then we lost to New York and…POOF. All that good will went down the drain. An ugly win to one of the “lesser” teams in the league did no good in assuaging the grief. But you know what would go a looooong way in fixing that? A big win against the ATL. For the fans sake - for the Big D staff’s sake - for goodness sake - I can’t call for a win. But a sturdy 1-1 draw sounds good enough for me.