Another poor defensive performance doomed FC Dallas in their away game at San Jose on Wednesday night. Time to shake off the disappointment and prepare for the penultimate game in this season’s battle for El Capitan.
Fortunately for Dallas, the Houston Dynamo also suffered defeat on Wednesday night, this one at the hands of New York Red Bull. The 1-0 defeat keeps Houston in 10th place in the West with 28 points. They are 10 points out of the playoffs with only eight games to go.
Dallas’ 4-3 defeat in California finally puts them in danger of losing the top seed in the West. With 46 points, Dallas is still only one point above Sporting KC, who play the blazing hot Seattle Sounders on Saturday. Of course, a win in Houston one Sunday would push them back in front, but SKC would still have a game in hand.
Disappointment does not begin to describe how I felt while watching the San Jose game. I’m still at a loss for words in how to describe everything that went wrong and yet also went right. Our last preview was about getting the offense - specifically Maxi Urruti - going again. And boom, straight out of the gate, Maxi gets a goal. Then Santiago Mosquera finds the back of the net, then Dominque Badji gets a tap-in. If you had told me before the game we would get three goals, I would have said that the points would come with it. Alas - the other part of the preview for last game was about getting the defense back up to snuff. And that was where it all fell apart for Dallas. Vako once again tormented the Hoops, getting two goals and a chance for a third. Magnus Eriksson curled a beauty in from outside the box and Wondo picked up another goal in his quest for the all-time goals record and finished the Hoops off for good.
Sulking in my devastation after the match, I was reminded by some of our other, more level headed, contributors that yes, the defense was awful, but we were missing three of our most important defensive contributors. Indeed, Carlos Gruezo, Reto Ziegler, and Jesse Gonzalez would certainly have helped keep the clamps on the San Jose attack. Gruezo protects the back line like a pit bull. Ziegler elevates the entire back line, especially Matt Hedges, with his communication and timely defensive actions. And Jesse? Well, he has his moments both good and bad, but he is prone to making spectacular saves for this team. So that is my reminder to you, dear reader. As awful, and pathetic, and lousy, and ugly, and absurd, and ridiculous, and…as bad as it was, it was not fully representative of what this team can and will play like with the full complement of options available.
Ok, now that all of that’s off my chest, let’s get down to Houston. It’s been ages since we’ve seen them and…wait, what? It was last week? Oh, right. What’s changed since last week, you ask? Well, Houston broke their five-game losing streak, then started a new one. Yeah, the draw against Dallas was their first point in over a month, and they subsequently went right back to losing in their next match. I’m trying not to be sarcastic and bitter, but, c’mon! Houston also played an almost entirely new lineup from the Dallas game, making 10 changes to the starting XI. Old pal Chris Seitz got the start in goal and made a few plays that would have come in handy for Dallas on Wednesday as well. New signing Ronaldo Pena, who scored the equalizer against Dallas, picked up his first start and looks to be another potent weapon for the Dynamo attack. Again though, as with every game against Houston, keeping a grip against any counter attacks is vital. Elis, Quioto and Manotas are dangerous all the time in the final third and with the way our defense is playing, they could spell trouble for Dallas.
So how does Dallas regain some momentum after the gut punch to San Jose. For starters, keeping the offense rolling will be key. Often it is the lack of goals that holds Dallas back, not trouble keeping them out. I am down on the backline right now, but I know they can do better, which cannot be said for San Jose. That was par for the course for their defense, but Dallas has proven this season they can stifle almost anyone. The caveat comes down to having the right players on the pitch. The Quick Burns piece for this week is about who the MVP of the season has been thus far (Editor’s note: this will be released next week). Last game makes a compelling case for one of Gruezo or Zeigler, maybe both. Zeigler was brought in the winter to help fix our defense and has delivered on that promise - when not serving a suspension. He is a good communicator, an excellent passer, and adequate to above average defenseman. Add it all up to go along with his leadership and he has been worth more than what we paid to get him. But for me, the single biggest plus this season has been the growth of Carlos Gruezo into a full-fledged box-to-box midfielder. His defensive chops are unquestioned, and he still tirelessly does the dirty work when needed. His growth then, has come with how much better of a distributor he has become, and how much more forward he gets in the attack. His two goals and one assist aren’t anything to write home about, but his presence in more advanced positions has allowed him greater influence over the game. Whether intercepting a pass coming from the back or tackling a player on top of their own box, or even just being an outlet to recycle possession, Gruezo has become a much more complete midfielder.
Key Matchup: Maxi Urruti vs Houston’s back line
After all the blubbering up above about Gruezo, I’m sure you thought his name would occupy this space. And certainly, his ability to limit Elis and Co. will go a long way in helping Dallas pick up points, but the main differentiator will be Maxi. Someone must step up and score goals and Maxi is the only forward you can count on to be starting. Mosquera appears to be a super sub this season and Badji is still finding his feet. (Fun Fact: Badji’s first two shots for Dallas turned into goals; sadly, they came across four games). I don’t know what to make of Barrios’ production and Crown Prince™ Aranguiz has not yet put up any counting stats. That leaves Maxi to make something happen. He finally - finally - got off the snide to end the goal drought. Now he needs to lead the team to a big win with a few more goals.
1. Goals, Goals, Goals - Goal one: score more of them. Goal two: give away fewer of them. Goal three: three points and one large piece of artillery.
2. Fresh Tactics – I didn’t hit on this anywhere else in this preview, so let’s just say Coach Pareja’s tactics were…puzzling against the Quakes. He has also not quite dialed in the right ones in our first two matches against Houston either. We need some new ideas to get over the hump, not only for this game, but for the remainder of the season.
3. Defense – What more is there to say? It was awful last game, especially from our two seasoned vets playing center back. Hedges and Figueroa do not make for a good partnership and it would be in the best interests of this team to stop using that tandem for any more matches. But the entire back line needs to step up, Cannon and Pedroso included, for Dallas to get where it wants to go. Start with a clean sheet this game and build from there.
I know this wasn’t much of a preview, per se. Since we just saw Houston and so little has changed on their part, even from the first matchup much less the one last week, I indulged with some cathartic angst. You should do the same, it makes you feel better. Once you have cleared your system of the anger and anguish, go back to cheering for this team. They may be uneven sometimes, but you know you love them. Besides, with 46 points right now, Dallas is 5 wins away from reaching 60 points in three of their last four seasons, which would be a first for any team in MLS. Looking at the remainder of the schedule, it won’t be easy, but it’s doable. Let’s start with this game, which I think will be a 2-1 win for FC Dallas. Fingers crossed.