A perfect storm helped FC Dallas get back in the win column against Minnesota last week. Now, the second battle for Texas supremacy kicks off with your Hoops traveling down to Houston once again to take on the Dynamo.
Since the last leg in the Texas Derby, Houston has spun out of control. They’ve lost five in a row in MLS since the Dallas game and fallen out of playoff contention. Sitting on 27 points, Houston is 10 points back of Portland for the final playoff spot with only 10 games to go. Houston still has reason to stay sharp though, as they have made it to the U.S. Open Cup Finals.
Dallas weathered the two-hour rain delay last game and eased through a 2-0 win against Minnesota. The win kept Dallas ahead of both SKC and LAFC for first in the Western Conference on 45 points. They still sit in fourth in the race for the Shield, but a win this week would help them keep pace with the three beasts from the East (Atlanta, NYRB, NYCFC).
As mentioned above, not much has gone right for our “friends” in the south since our last meeting. Referee decisions, last minute goals, poor play, poor attitudes…the list goes on. I’m not going to pile on, but this is a great time for Dallas to be taking on Houston as the Hoops continue to challenge for the best team in the conference and the league.
Despite their current slump, Houston is still +4 in the goal differential department, which speaks volumes to their offense earlier in the season. It also shows an underrated aspect of the team, their defense. Being top 10 in defense thus far has kept Houston in almost every game. I don’t want to give them undue credit, but they have been in position to take points in almost every game of their five-game losing streak. Last week was this identity to the extreme. Against Real Salt Lake, Houston was up 1-0 going into second half stoppage time. Then - bang! In less than 8 minutes Real scored two goals to win, the first from open play and the winner from a penalty (11 minutes of stoppage time for a 1-0 game seems a bit…excessive, just sayin’). The game before, same situation. In the game before that, away at Columbus, Houston carried the game to second half stoppage time and looked set for an away draw, but then, Columbus scored the game winner. Their previous two games before that, against SKC and Portland, were tight affairs too with the winners being scored late and with multiple chances that Houston just couldn’t convert to pick up the points. Now you say, “Well that’s what separates the good teams from the bad,” and you’d be right. But remember, that is four of five losses that were lost by one goal in each game, and all five losses have come against playoff teams.
Houston still likes to get up and down the field on the counter, happy to concede possession for the chance to turn on the jets. All the main players will be on the field this week, including Mauro Manotas, who scored the lone goal in our last match up, as well as Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, and Tomas Martinez. None have had the best run in form lately, but there’s nothing like a rivalry game to get everyone up and running to play their best.
For Dallas, this game will be another opportunity to build a cohesive identity with the summer arrivals. Dominque Badji, Pablo Aranguiz, and Marinqinhos Pedrosa have all seemingly snapped into their respective roles without much growing pains, but it’s clear that with Aranguiz in the side we will be sacrificing either a winger or a forward from here on out. If Aranguiz plays out wide in the 4-4-2 of late, Coach Oscar Pareja can bring off the bench any two of Roland Lamah, Michael Barrios, or Santiago Mosquera. That is some serious juice riding the pine. On the other hand, playing him as a true no. 10 in a 4-2-3-1, leaves out either Urruti or Badji, which again, nice problem to have. We know Victor Ulloa and Carlos Gruezo are locked in as the midfield duo, and there is plenty of depth behind them, so tinkering with the forward setup is where we will see the most changes from a formation stand point from here on out. In the end, it’s clear FC Dallas have a new foundation piece in which the rest of the team will be built around. The Prince now has a kingdom (fiefdom?).
Key Matchup: Pablo Aranguiz vs Expectations
Ok, so this is aimed directly at me. Clearly Houston hasn’t signed Expectations to a contract (way too expensive for MLS) but that doesn’t mean we won’t project them on to him. I am all in on our new key man, leading the hype train, driving the band wagon, whatever. But I also know it’s not really fair to put anything on the shoulders of a new arrival, much less one who has played all of one and half games and is only 21 years old. Even still, FC Dallas very much has high expectations, both internally as a team, and externally as leader of the Western Conference. Clearly, Aranguiz can make a difference for this team, not only in the future, but also in the here and now. We just need to manage expectations for all parties involved.
1. Flipping the Script – It’s funny how quickly a narrative can change. Last week, the story being thrust upon Dallas was about how they were falling back into a summer slump again. A tidy win over Minnesota and…crickets. Dallas made one of their largest jumps in the “Power Rankings” after a 2-hour rain delay, at home, against an incredibly mediocre team. Uh-huh, ok, sure. Don’t be fooled, this was never a summer swoon. Dallas was never going to crash out like last season. For once, let’s all take a breath and enjoy one of the best teams in the league – no need to find a story that isn’t there.
2. Forwards Scoring – The main concern I now have with this team is whether we have a forward on the roster capable of consistent scoring. Maxi’s dry spell now sits at 13 games. New signing Badji has 8 goals on the season, but only four have come since the end of March. Barrios now has 4 goals, but, let’s just say…he should not be relied upon to continue that trend. I’m not screaming out for some big-time no. 9 to come in, just expressing mild concern on should be the main focus for the remainder of the regular season.
3. Mosquera’s Return – I’m not sure Mosquera will actually play this game, especially in the hot and humid climate down in Houston. Hamstrings are tricky. But man-oh-man I can’t wait to see how Mosquera and Aranguiz fit together on the field. It’s been start-stop all season for Mo’ in his minutes and form, but I think Aranguiz might be an even better fit with him than Diaz was. They are both supremely crafty in possession and both appear to have unlimited energy on the field. Their one-two combos are going to be video game fun.
“Danger, FC Dallas, Danger!” This is what I want the locker room announcement to be heading out on the field. Take Houston’s past five games out of the equation and look at the team on the field. Don’t get ahead of yourselves. Don’t underestimate a rival. Dallas has the talent to grab three points on the road, but Houston has the talent to make us look silly too. The numbers are clear that Houston is better than their record shows. Dallas must be careful. Sad as it is to say, I think a good result would be another draw down south, and I think Dallas should be pleased to pick up points on the road and continue the steady march toward the playoffs. So there you have it, 1-1 is the call from me.