A big win against Seattle last week stopped the string of poor results and has propelled FC Dallas forward into this week’s game against San Jose at Avaya Stadium. San Jose comes in having drawn their last match against DC United, but has also won three of their previous fourbefore. With 18 points on the season, the Quakes are in 8th place in the Western Conference, one point out of a playoff spot. After Dallas’ win against Seattle (Own Goal with a brace), the Hoops are back up to…5th place in the West. They have 21 points on the season, tied with Minnesota.
Match Day 16 is here, and we have our second repeat opponent of the season (the first being LAFC and that ridiculous back to back). But this trip to California has Dallas checking in on a San Jose team they drew with six weeks ago. After the 0-0 outcome last time, San Jose has stepped on the gas with three wins to bring their total up to five on the season. After starting the season with four straight losses, and five in their first six, it has been an impressive turnaround. Since our last meeting the league also now has a new all-time goal scoring leader. Chris Wondolowski officially moved past Landon Donavon and is now numero uno for career MLS goals.
Let’s start with ol’ Wondo as he is about as on fire as a striker can be. He has started the last three matches and has scored all seven of his goals on the season. He bagged the lone goal against DC United last game, had a brace in the previous game against Toronto, and of course the big four goal evisceration of Chicago the week before that. With only seven starts this season, it appears he has figured out how coach Matias Almeyda wants him to play. The first few weeks saw him average about one shot per game, but these last four weeks he has three, six, three, and two shots respectively. Another piece of the attacking puzzle has been wing play. Cristian Espinoza has two goals and six assists coming into this match and will be a major focal point for the Dallas defense. Espinoza attacks from his right wing spot and has been able to setup quite a few goals from low crosses and passes in the box. His left wing partner, Shea Salinas, has four goals and two assists so far. Add in striker Danny Hoesen’s three goals and an assist and you have a really strong and diverse attack. Pile on contributions from central midfield duo Magnus Eriksson (2g/3a) and Jackson Yueill (1g/2/a) and you can see the positive turnaround has been a team effort. If there’s good news for Dallas this week, it’s that San Jose will be missing a few key defenders thanks to this international tournament time. Nick Lima is doing Gold Cup duty with the USMNT while Harold Cummings and Anibal Godoy will be repping Panama. That Panamanian pairing has played San Jose’s two highest minutes totals this season and Lima isn’t far behind. Tommy Thompson and Florian Jungwurth will still be around, but attacking a back line missing two main starters is a help for this struggling Dallas attack.
The bad news is that all those attackers just mentioned should be ready and available to take on our own depleted roster. Whereas San Jose is missing key defenders, our backline is set to be back at its best with Reto Ziegler, Matt Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead, and either Reggie Cannon, Bressan, or John Nelson available to fill the left back spot. Whoever doesn’t get it will probably be available to slide up into the midfield, or super utility man Hollingshead will move up. Heck, Hollingshead is so versatile, it wouldn’t surprise to see him as a winger, full back, or central midfielder, maybe even all three. The questions for Dallas start in the midfield and will affect decisions in the back and front lines. Who steps into the holding mid spot? Will Thomas Roberts start at the no. 10 or will Jesus Ferreira slide down? Who plays striker if he moves? What if we deploy a different look, like a 3-5-2/5-3-2 or 3-4-3, how will that change who plays? The only dependable attacking option for this team the past few weeks has been Michael Barrios. His two goals are nice, but he has been the main creator this season, with five assists already. He’s on pace to get to the 14 assists he had two seasons ago and Dallas will need him to work some magic on the wings to pocket points in this one.
Key Matchup: Matt Hedges vs Chris Wondolowski
Stopping the hottest striker in the league is always going to be job one for Dallas. They simply can’t let Wondo beat them. It’s almost too obvious to say stop the top scorer from scoring goals, but Wondo has been the entire San Jose offense in these past three games. His seven goals scored are the only goals scored by the team. Matt Hedges can’t let him find open pockets of space in the box. As the old saying goes: make someone else beat you.
Three Keys to the Game
1. 2nd String Midfield – Take a look at our Squad Selection piece and you will see the dire straights the Dallas midfield is in. Dallas is missing it’s top five midfield options. This game is going to come down to whether Jacori Hayes, Thomas Roberts and…someone else, will be able to work through the middle of the field, as well as stop the attacking threats across the Quakes midfield.
2. 1st String Defense – Now look at the back line. With all our first choice options back, Dallas has no excuse to not play some shutdown D. We have so many versatile players back there, we can afford to move them up to help the midfield. Dallas hasn’t had a shutout since the last time these two teams played. They might as well start the turnaround against them again.
3. Open Tryouts for Forwards – Dallas hasn’t scored more than one goal in a game since the Atlanta game (Own Goal doesn’t count). Unless coach Gonzalez can start Own Goal up front again (he’s extremely streaky), Dallas is going to have to stumble across more consistency from the forwards. Dom Badji was looking good for a while. Before him Jesus Ferreira looked good. But not one has looked like a match winner lately and that’s the problem. If Zdenek Ondrasek can put some things together, maybe he wins the job. Maybe Bryan Reynolds can take hold of a spot. At the end of the day, production is what’s missing from the Dallas strikers, and whoever can start scoring goals, that person gets to stay.
I am once again worried about playing San Jose. Just like last time, it’s a unique style of play and we are depleted in the midfield and attack. We are also on the road. Can our inexperienced young guys step up to make a difference? Will they be able to handle the man marking press? Will they be able to initiate any kind of attack? Will they help contain the San Jose one? These are all unknowns at this point. Counting on Roberts or Reynolds or Ema Twumasi to step up and fill the void of Paxton Pomykal and co. feels a bit much. And that’s why I’m going with another 0-0 draw in this one. Please, prove me wrong Dallas.