Once again, FC Dallas picked up three points in a thriller against Atlanta United. Now the team travels to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake. Real is coming off a big win of their own, as they beat Sporting KC 4-2 on Wednesday night. With the win, Real ended a 3 game winless streak and are now tied for 4th in the West on 26 points with Portland.
With a big come from behind win, Dallas picked up another win against Atlanta in a 3-2 victory. With the win and the win from Real over SKC, Dallas now sits solely in first place in the West on 35 points. They also moved just a single point back from pole position for the Supporters Shield.
A little luck is all it took. A predictable substitution in a predicament of a spot. Tesho Akindele subbed on and, much to everyone’s surprise I think, turned into the hero of the game. Scoring the first goal to equalize was remarkable enough, but popping up to snatch a win at the end, that was - lucky? As the saying goes, the best make their own luck.
This is a slightly altered Real from the first game of the season. Injuries have hit the team hard and a few key playmakers have been missing, most notably Joao Plata. There are at least four starters from opening day that are now part of the bench or the injury report. But this hasn’t hurt Real too badly as they still sit fourth in the conference.
Real will look to use the wings in attack. Brooks Lennon, formerly a winger and forward at Liverpool, has made a seamless transition to fullback and helps provide speed and width down his flank while Danilo Acosta and Sebastian Saucedo pair up on the other side. The attacking four of Saucedo, Rusnak, Savarino, and Baird have started to find a rhythm playing together and can be a dangerous on the attack. Both Saucedo and Savarino will look to cut-inside and play combinations with Rusnak and Baird. Rusnak, meanwhile can also jump outside to give help and creativity on the wings. The combining of the front four attackers can be a real problem for teams that aren’t organized in the back.
The questions for RSL are at the heart of the pitch. Mike Petke hasn’t been able to settle on a workable solution to fit in two of Sunny, Kyle Beckerman, or winter signing Damir Kreilach. Beckerman is a club and league legend who still warrants playing time, but his fit with Kreilach has been iffy. Petke has experimented with Kreilach playing up top in the no. 9 position, but this has pushed into Rusnak’s space. I wouldn’t be surprised if the formula from last game in which Beckerman starts on the bench while Sunny and Kreilach partner in midfield becomes a new normal. It seemed to free up Kreilach to be a creative hub while also not impeding on the four attackers up front.
Dallas will of course be looking to string together another win streak and solidify their place atop the conference. A disorganized back line allowed both Atlanta goals, with Martinez popping in front of Reggie to squeeze in goal number one. The second goal saw Martinez slip behind Hedges and to finish a nice through ball from Almiron. Although Real isn’t as lethal as Atlanta, Dallas will still need to clean up in the back to pull out a win.
Key Matchup: Gruezo/Ulloa vs Rusnak/Kreilach
The Gruezo/Ulloa pairing had a great game against Atlanta and pointed the way towards the Mauro-less future. Both players are great in defense and they have both also shown an expanded skillset over the past few weeks. If Carlos Gruezo continues to transition into a box-to-box roll and Victor Ulloa can continue his offensive contributions, they will be a handful for opposing teams. Keeping Rusnak from pulling our defense apart will be the key to points in this game.
1. More Tesho? – (Raises hand) I did not believe in Tesho. I frequently criticize his role on our team. I often criticize his questionable decision making on the field. But he proved me wrong last game. His speed on the flank gave Atlanta problems and his decision making was sound. I don’t know if I believe in a bigger role for him, but when his name was called, he stepped up. We will need that to continue if we want to achieve our goals this season.
2. Clean Up the D – Wednesday night was not a good look for our defense. Maynor Figueroa got burned multiple times down the wing and Reggie Cannon looked a bit lost. Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler’s miscommunication on the second goal was uncharacteristic, which was indicative of the unit overall. Atlanta is really good so I understand, but Dallas needs to put it back together this week
3. Kellyn the Sub – It feels strange seeing Kellyn Acosta being used as a sub. His box to box role seems ideally suited to our new formation. Injuries have had a part to play this season, but so has the improved play of Gruezo and Ulloa. For now this is working, but I don’t know for how much longer.
Coming off a big win, I think Dallas can continue their win streak against Real Salt Lake. The potent attack from Atlanta that gave our defense such problems will be gone and dusted. As for our own burgeoning attack, I believe it is sustainable for this new formation. Real have won 7 of their last 8 at home, but I think Dallas can get a good result at Rio Tinto. A 2-0 win is the call.