By Clay Massey
The Seattle Sounders travel to Frisco for their first match there since the 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Western Conference Semi-finals. It comes at an awkward time for both sides, as there are heavy absences from their rosters due to international duty. Some players will get some first team time they will not normally have the opportunity to get, and Oscar Pareja and Sigi Schmidt may be playing more of a coach’s match than people will see.
FC Dallas; Blas Perez (Panama), Kyle Bekker (Canada), Moises Hernandez (Guatemala) and Je-Vaughn Watson (Jamaica)
Seattle Sounders; Marco Pappa (Guatemala) and Clint Dempsey (United States; Hamstring Injury*)
FC Dallas have not struggled to score goals, with six on the season so far coming from four different players (Hollingshead, Castillo, Akindele, and Perez.) Seattle have five goals on the year, coming from only two players, Dempsey and Martins. Notice that Dempsey will likely be absent this Saturday, although there have been conflicting reports on the severity of the injury.
Recent reports from Steve Hunt of the Dallas Morning News/3rd Degree indicate that in addition to Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso will also miss the game due to injury for the Sounders. For Dallas, Dan Kenney is listed as unavailable. The loss of Alonso for Seattle is going to be a challenge for the Sounders.
The latest official word, from the MLS Preview, lists Dempsey, Alonso and Tyrone Mears as out for Seattle, whereas Dallas lists Kennedy, Craft and Keel as out.
The attack for FC Dallas can stay relatively the same, with just Blas Perez being absent. David Texeria is in the running to take his spot given his success against Seattle last year in which he scored three goals. Tesho Akindele has to be considered as well. Striker is his natural position and he got his first goal last week.
Sigi Schmidt will have some game changing decisions to make with his line-up selection as he is missing a big part of his attack, Clint Dempsey. Good news for Seattle is, Lamar Neagle will still be in the squad. Neagle scored 2 goals in 5 games against FC Dallas. We could also see the University of Washington product Cristian Roldan who was selected 16th overall by the Sounders in this year’s MLS Superdraft.
The two great soccer minds of Oscar Pareja and Sigi Schmidt face-off, and Pareja thinks highly of Schmidt, “I respect him, but I don’t try to emulate him…I just want to be me,” said Pareja. Expect Pareja to stick to his guns and not shy away from using his 4-2-4 that he has implemented on multiple occasions this year.
FC Dallas are facing Seattle at home, where they are 12-1-2 in all completions over their last 15 games. When at home, teams tend to attack more, and that may just be the FC Dallas game plan. A heavy attack could exploit Brad Evans as he is still adjusting to centerback. If Dallas can put the Seattle Sounders on the back foot, and hold majority of possession, this match should provide three points.
Mauro Diaz versus Osvaldo Alonso will be crucial as Diaz tries to feed the striker, and Alonso tries to win possession in the midfield and prevent Diaz from playing thorough balls. With Dempsey and Pappa out, Seattle could be a bit more reserved in attack. Seattle homegrown, Aaron Kovar is expected to start in the place of Pappa. Kovar went a full 90minutes in a mid-week friendly against Mexican side, Tijuana and assisted both Seattle goals.
The FC Dallas backline is weakened by the absence of Moises Hernandez. When Seattle attacks it will be crucial for Zach Loyd and Matt Hedges to be the rocks in the center, and the sweepers of the back-line when needed to cover. Atiba Harris will rejoin FC Dallas for this match after a mid-week World Cup Qualifier with Saint Kitts and Nevis. He should be ready to go Saturday, but it will be a game time decision by Pareja. At the left back position, Pareja has hinted at rookie Otis Earle being an option to get his first start. Earle was selected 15th overall at this year’s MLS Superdraft by FC Dallas. Kellyn Acosta is back from injury and is an option for both left back and midfield. He could get the midfield call if Michel is selected at left back.
This could be considered FC Dallas’ first real test of their perfect record. They may have caught Seattle at just the right time to continue their perfection.
“I’m nervous, I’m excited, and it’s a big responsibility to improve,” said Pareja.
Matt Hedges understands that there is a little extra motivation to this match, “We have it in the back of our mind that they ended our season last year,” said Hedges.
There will be a little more energy to this FC Dallas side on Saturday, but expect Seattle to be prepared to absorb it. FC Dallas should still be considered the favorites though. With Evans still adjusting to CB, and no Dempsey.
Fletcher Whiteley contributed to this report.