Oof! That was embarrassing. FC Dallas’ big loss at the hands of last place San Jose put a damper on spirits across the metroplex. Even with the win, San Jose is still in last place in the league, but even with the loss, FC Dallas is still first in the West. Time to get back to business this week against Seattle.
Seattle comes into the match on a seven-game unbeaten streak including four straight wins. However, their disastrous start to the season still has them in eighth place in the West, five points behind Real Salt Lake for the last playoff spot. With just 29 points on the season, Seattle is hoping their annual second half surge will push them over the red line and into the playoffs.
Dallas comes in this week still in control of the West with 42 points. Another Portland Timbers win saw them move up to second with 37 points and SKC is now tied for third with LAFC on 36 points. Dallas will be looking to make up some Supporter’s Shield ground after the three Eastern Conference teams in front of them all came away with points.
Let’s agree to speak no more of the disaster against San Jose. A goal keeping error early put us behind the proverbial 8-ball and a second one helped San Jose put the game away. The best news from this game was the fight Dallas showed to get back into the game and the commitment they had to finish with a point all the way up until the doomed third goal. It was the type of performance the team never turned in last summer. Travelling up to Seattle will be another test of the team’s mental toughness.
The foundation of Seattle’s team is built on having an impenetrable defense. Seattle is second best in the league, having allowed only 25 goals on the season (behind NYRB 23 GA). Their steadiness in the back starts with two of the best players in the league at their respective positions, keeper Stefan Frei and center back Chad Marshall. Frei’s work speaks for itself. His save against Toronto in the MLS Cup a few years back says it all. Marshall is truly one of the standout defenders in the league. He is so smart with his positional play and is remarkably consistent. He is still a force to be reckoned with in the air on set piece’s, but his speed and quickness, never great to begin with, are what get him in trouble these days. To help balance the defense out, Seattle brought in a very underrated and now key piece in the winter signing period in centerback Kim Kee-Hee. Hee has replaced playoff hero/cult icon Romain Torres in the back line because he has the requisite athleticism to keep up with pacey attackers and provides a nice balance with Marshall. It appears Kee-Hee will miss this week due to injury, so expect Torres to be partnered with Marshall on Sunday.
These are the players Seattle has leaned on to get results this season since the attack has been so futile. Seattle has scored the fewest goals in the league this season, so the following stat speaks volumes – their goal differential is only minus-1. That’s right – 24 goals scored, 25 goals conceded. It explains why Seattle went out and spent over $7 million dollars to bring in Peruvian hitman Raul Ruidiaz at the beginning of the transfer window. Ruidiaz has a good track record of production and should be a boon to Seattle’s attack, but he can’t do it alone. Nicolas Lodeiro and Will Briun had been the main sources of offense this season, with five and six goals respectively along with six and five assists as well. No one else has more than two, although in their last six games that number went from no one else with two goals at all to having three players now at that number. Christian Roldan has been moved out wide into an attacking role due to injuries and inconsistency from others. Gustav Svensson and Osvaldo Alonso man the middle of the park with Svensson running sideline to sideline almost like an advanced sweeper, cleaning things up in front of the defense. Harry Shipp, Clint Dempsey and Bruin round out the attack either starting opposite Roldan on the wing or on the bench as a sub.
Dallas will have to pick themselves up quick for this game. Seattle is a team that does not hand out goals like candy. They can suffocate the best attacks in the league and will happily pull out a 1-0 win or 0-0 draw. It will be key for Barrios or Urruti or Lamah or anyone to put Dallas on the front foot with a goal or two. Dallas will have to contain Lodeiro in the middle and do their best to cut off the supply to Ruidiaz. To be honest, Ruidiaz is the player that worries me most. Scoring 20 goals in Liga MX is nothing to scoff at and he seems like the type of player who can create something out of nothing. Hedges and Co. will need to be at their best to keep him from inflicting any damage. If there is a silver lining to be had, it’s that Dallas hasn’t lost back to back MLS games this season. But there is also a first for everything, so be warned.
Key Matchup: Victor Ulloa vs Nicolas Lodeiro
Ulloa and Gruezo have become the foundation for this team’s results. Their work in containing the opposing team’s midfield and then transitioning Dallas into the attack has been superb for the past few weeks going on months. They have even chipped in with an odd goal here and there. This week, they need to keep up the hard work. The best way to break down a defense is to overwhelm it with numbers. Ulloa and Gruezo will need to be able to get into the attacking third as often as possible while keeping the two main Seattle threats, Lodeiro and Ruidiaz, in check.
1. Strong Mentality – After seeing how the team responded to being down last game, I believe Dallas has truly turned the page on last summer’s meltdown. Seattle is a team that can frustrate with their strong defense. Dallas needs to keep up the focus and intensity for the whole 90 minutes and be patient when chances don’t pan out. Eventually, something will pay off if we don’t become too dispirited and give in.
2. New Faces 2.0 – Badji and Aranguiz are on the flight to the northwest and there is a fair chance we see at least one of them, and maybe both. There’s talk Pareja might play a 4-4-2 with Badji and Urruti playing together up top which will be exciting to see. Without seeing Aranguiz play yet, it’s hard to know if he will be best on the wing or more centrally, in the old Diaz spot, but either way, keep a look out for the new guys.
3. Injury Free – A stop in Seattle means a game on the loathed turf field. When international stars come into the league, they often skip playing in Seattle due to the injury risks associated with playing on turf. We already know Reggie is dealing with a hamstring issue and it would be best if Coach Pareja decided to let him get some rest this week. But not everyone deserving a rest can get it this game, so fingers crossed we come through this week unscathed.
Last week, I stated that I think Dallas is a better than good team. As trying as last game was, I still have faith that this team is one of the best in MLS and can really go far. But last week was a reality check. It’s never easy. There’s never a moment to let your guard down. I hope the Hoops come out with a renewed focus and a prove them wrong attitude. Even with all of that though, it will be a tough game. I think going on the road, to Seattle, on the turf - a draw would be a good result to get the team back going. The final call from me is 1-1.