It doesn’t get much worse than last week folks. Besides taking a big loss in Chicago, it knocked Dallas out of playoff positioning. But take heart, there is still much to play for as plenty of Western Conference foes ahead of Dallas also came away with no points. First up tonight is a huge match against Seattle. The Sounders are in second place in the West with 49 points, one point ahead of Minnesota. Dallas is in eighth place with 43 points, tied with seventh place Portland on the playoff line and one behind San Jose.
As bad as Saturday was for Dallas – and it was truly bad – the Hoops can’t dwell on their mistakes. Fortunately for them Portland and San Jose lost two and it leaves an inch of room for Dallas. But it’s down to make or break time. Another loss may not officially eliminate them, but it might mentally do the job. Seattle comes into this match having won three of their last five. Their last game against New York Red Bull showed the highs and lows of Seattle’s play this season perfectly. They jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead before letting New York climb all the way back to tie it. But then they found their next gear and finished strong to a 4-2 win. The attack assembled up in Washington state can be as fearsome as any team in the league, but the defense has gone through a rocky transition this season.
Let’s start at the top with striker Raul Ruidiaz. The Peruvian striker has missed time this year due to both international call-ups and injuries, yet still leads the team with 11 goals in 18 games played. Since coming over last season he has contributed 21 goals across 32 games, making him one of the elite scorers in MLS. He’s a terrific poacher and clinical finisher who moves around the attacking third to find open space in the box. He won’t go way out wide to help build the attack, rather, he occupies defenders to free others around him and waits for a pass or some sort of action in the box. His three assists fall right in line with how he plays, if you’re in the box with him, you might get a pass, but otherwise, he will finish the job himself. Next up in attack is Jordan Morris, former teen phenom turned over-hyped prospect turned semi-legitimate star. Your thoughts about Jurgen Klinsmann probably inform your opinion of who Morris was and is. It’s hard to get away from the type of expectations heaped upon “the next USMNT savior” that were laid at his feet, but with injuries and time to just develop, Morris is putting in a very solid season. With nine goals and seven assists, he’s become a catalyst in attack over the past few months and appears to be blossoming in his role as Option 1B next to Ruidiaz’s 1A. He can burn you down the flank or win one-v-one. He’s worked hard to improve his passing and now that he’s a bigger threat there, it’s opened the field for him.
On the opposite flank from Morris is Cristian Roldan. You may remember his time as a central midfielder from years gone by, but he now occupies the right side of the field. Well, kind of. He plays there, sure, but with midfield maestro Nicolas Lodeiro roaming wherever he desires, Roldan can pinch in and occupy a more central position on the field. With six goals and five assists on the season, he’s developed a nice chemistry in the attack. As for Lodeiro, well, we all know about him. One of the best creators in the whole league, he can make something out of nothing like no one apart from Diego Valeri. With seven goals already on the season, he’s one away from tying his MLS season record. His 12 assists are slightly down from last season’s 16, but not much, and still with plenty of games to go. This group of four attackers may not be LAFC dangerous, but that’s only down to Carlos Vela. They are one of the best attacking groups in the league and will cause Dallas all kinds of trouble.
Further back we run into Jordy Delem and Gustav Svensson. Both are more defensive minded and thus rarely contribute much going forward. But they lay the foundation for Seattle’s fullbacks to get forward as often as possible. When the Sounders sent Osvaldo Alonso packing, they also jettisoned a new identity in. Gone were the days of Alonso being the singularly dominate defensive mid that allowed Seattle to play with loads of possession. Instead, with Delem and Svensson, what they lack in possession Seattle has turned into mobility. The two mids may be doing the job that Alonso did by himself, but now the fullbacks are freer to get forward in attack and use the extra numbers to create opportunities rather than be solely reliant on Lodeiro.
Speaking of the fullbacks, on the right we should see Kevin Leerdam and his 5g/2a bombing forward while it’s more a mixed back on the left. It could be Brad Smith, who has 6 assists on the season or maybe Joevin Jones or even Saad Abdul-Salaam. Whomever it is, look for both fullbacks to be moving forward as often as possible. In the centerback spots we see Kim Kee-Hee and DP signing Xavier Arreaga. Both are very mobile defenders who may not be the pure defender that Chad Marshall was (few are) but are very solid in their own right. Backing them up is Stefan Frei, still one of the best in the biz.
For Dallas, this match is all about managing the explosive abilities of Ruidiaz, Morris, and Lodeiro while still finding a way to get points. Because they can’t come away empty again. Seattle will be content to let Dallas hold possession the way they normally do and counter through one of the three attackers up front. Dallas can’t be trapped in leaving too many people forward, but at the same time, will need to commit some numbers to take advantage of Seattle’s weaker defense. (Weaker is relative to their attack as they have 50 goals scored but also 47 goals against).
Key Matchup: Reggie Cannon vs Jordan Morris
These two USMNT teammates will get a chance to face off against each other in what might just be the most important matchup on the field. We all love Reggie around here, but he hasn’t been as defensively sound as last season and Morris is scorching hot right now with two goals and three assists in his last three games. But besides stopping Morris, Reggie can be a key contributor in the Dallas attack and probably should be doing more considering how often he gets forward. If he could add another dimension to the team’s attack, it would not only help this season, but offer something to build on going into next year as well.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Move On, Move Up – Dallas needs to move past the loss in Chicago right away. There’s no time to linger on mistakes, apart from a quick recalibration. If Chicago haunts the defense, it will ruin what slim odds of the playoffs they have left. A win, on the other hand, might see Dallas move on up the standings.
2. Back in Attack – Not sure if you notice or not, but before Chicago, Dallas had scored 3, 5, and 3 goals in their previous matches. All signs pointed to a more cohesive attack that was clicking at just the right time. Dallas has the strength to keep up with Seattle’s attack. Will they be able to get things clicking again?
3. Defensive Cohesion – One final note from last week, but basically the entire back line made an error that lead to a Chicago goal. Besides being infuriating and ridiculous, it was also straight fluky. Miscommunication from Matt Hedges is rare. Hollingshead doesn’t often get beat at the back post. The defense doesn’t just leave people open in the box. I’m not saying it won’t happen again, but its unlikely that a top 10 defense allows that to happen again.
This is it (probably). It’s do or die for the playoffs (maybe). With the wacky Western Conference, you never know what’s going to happen or when chances will present themselves. I was dead sure Dallas would be out of the playoffs if they lost in Chicago. But then, Portland lost, and San Jose lost, and Dallas still has it all to play for. Yes, the rope is frayed to it’s last few strings – “so you’re sayin’ there’s a chance!” Now, back to reality – I want to believe Dallas will win this game and climb back into the playoffs – I do! But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Seattle is better than us, they are at home, and they still are fighting for playoff positioning. There’s no letting up in this one. I think it’s a 3-2 Seattle win. Please prove me wrong Dallas.