A disaster of a game last week has the fan base feeling blue. What’s not going to help is two games against Los Angeles FC back to back on short rest. That’s right, the Hoops travel to LA for a Thursday game against LAFC before coming back home to play LAFC again on Sunday. Honestly MLS…what are we doing here?
Anyway, Los Angeles comes into this one as the best team in the league with an 8-3-1 record, good for 27 points. They are first in the Western Conference (duh) and lead the Supporter’s Shield race by four points already over Philadelphia and DCU (23 points apiece). After the loss last week, Dallas is still 5th in the West with 17 points.
How to start a preview for a team that really doesn’t need one. Well, that doesn’t need an introduction to its players, it’s status, it’s general existence. If you’ve somehow missed LAFC and their exploits this season, congrats on being off the grid! Although introductions may not be in order, some of their lesser known players may not be on your radar quite like the stars. But stars first. Carlos Vela has emerged as arguably the best player in the league. That’s debatable with Zlatan around, but he’s the only one. Vela leads to league in goals scored with 12 and is tied for the lead in assists with six! He’s got more shots and shots on goal than anyone else. He leads the league in player rating at 8.49 (whoscored.com) and is in 3rd for overall scoring contribution as a percentage of team goals (41% - 12 of LAFC’s 29 goals). He’s the clear front runner for MVP and it’s not particularly close.
His partner in crime is Diego Rossi, the Young DP from Uruguay, who has six goals and three assists so far. Both wingers like to cut inside and create chaos. Vela’s magic left foot allows him to shoot or pass from any angle. Rossi’s vision for a pass is probably close to the best in the league. Both players are brightest star in the constellation types and being on the same team is just unfair.
But who are the scrubs that fill out the roster…well…you’re not going to like the answer. At the forward spot between Vela and Rossi is Christian Ramirez, of USMNT note, who came over from Minnesota last August. Ramirez has started nine games this season and has two goals and an assist. Adama Diomande, the Norwegian international who was bought before the start of last season, has been used as a super sub of sorts and has three goals and three assists to his name. Diomande had 12 goals through July last year before a foot injury ruined the party and this season he has battled a hamstring injury. Once he’s back to full strength, I suspect he will get the starting nod over Ramirez.
Further back in the midfield sees three players with decidedly lower Q scores than the strikers, and even most of the defense. Mark Anthony Kaye is one of the three midfielders pulling the strings. Kaye immediately became a lineup staple last season after being bought from Louisville and has brought even more to the table so far this season. With three goals and five assists, he leads the midfield in productivity, but only just. Latif Blessing, the former Sporting KC striker, has been converted to “midfielder” under coach Bob Bradly. Although he has no goals on the season, his 5 assists are tied for second on the team. Holding midfielder Eduard Atuesta keeps everything in check and protects the backline but has also contributed a goal and four assists as well.
What’s interesting is how Bradly has set this midfield up. Because Rossi and Vela cut inside so often and generally move wherever they want, Bradly has added two rangy midfielders in Kaye and Blessing who are comfortable on the wings and can push forward in attack in positions not normally operated by center midfielders. Both Rossi and Vela can operate as no. 10s, while Kaye, and especially Blessing have to speed to stretch the field as wingers. All four can also cram themselves in and around the box and let the full backs overlap on the sidelines to create even more danger in the middle of the field.
In the back line we find old friend Walker Zimmerman and his center back partner Eddie Segura. On the flanks is Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey. Backing them up in goal is Tyler Miller. Although Zimmerman and Segura are relatively young, Harvey and Beitashour are the old heads of the team. And although they are capable of more offensive output, they don’t often have to do anything more than their defensive duties while letting the six players in front of them tear teams apart. Another key strength for LAFC is their depth. With guys like Diomande, Lee Nguyen, and Danilo Silva available off the bench or as fill in starters, coach Bradly can rotate across all three lines as needed without seeing much drop off in performance. Some teams, man…
What will Dallas be looking to do in this game? Survive. Live to fight another day. Don’t get humiliated. With so many guys out, we will see some fresh blood in the lineup. Paxton Pomykal, Carlos Gruezo, and Santiago Mosquera are all scratched for sure. Dominque Badji is most likely out. Edwin Cerillo and Brandon Servaina have already joined the U-20 World Cup squad. It’s looking like we may see Thomas Roberts and Bryan Reynolds and (according to our own Drew Epperley) maybe an Ema Twumasi sighting. Honestly, no matter how we lineup, it’s going to be tough stopping LA. Controlling the wings would be easier if we had two Reggie Cannons maybe. Maybe. But stopping Vela and Rossi and Kaye and Ramirez and Blessing and…well, it’s like stopping the tide.
Key Matchup: Ryan Hollingshead vs Carlos Vela
Really, this is FC Dallas vs Vela. He’s just that good. But Hollingshead has been lining up at left full back for a while now and that’s the side Vela plays on. His center back partner Reto Ziegler will also have to keep a watchful eye on Vela as well. Again, this is more than just one guy, it’s a team wide defensive approach that will be needed to slow Vela and Rossi and Ramirez and…you get the idea.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Youth Movement – It’s all or nothing for Dallas this week. Luchi will have almost no choice but to give more young players time on the field. We’ve seen most of them already, but there’s no fire like a full 90 (or 180 since we’re back to back) against the best team in the league.
2. Cobra Attack – Is this the game we finally see off season signing Zdenek Ondrasek – a.k.a. The Cobra – make his debut start. In his few glimpses thus far, he has shown power and great movement. If Jesus Ferreira moves to winger or the no. 10 spot, we could finally see an extended run for the big guy.
3. Show Progress – The past few weeks have seen Dallas come sliding back to the place we thought they would be all season. A middling team with a few pieces, but not enough to contend for major trophies. Even against LA, it would be nice to see Luchi put together a game plan that at the very least makes LA work hard for the points, rather than the poor showing from the past few weeks.
No point in beating around the bush here. LAFC is the superior team and should handle Dallas in both games this week. But if Dallas could sneak a draw in (or even a win!) in one of these two games, it would be a positive step for the squad to build on as they continue to learn and grow with coach Gonzalez. I think a 2-0 loss in game one away from home and a 1-1 draw in friendly confines, though improbable, is possible. Fingers crossed we can be better.