FC Dallas comes into Sunday’s game against the Seattle Sounders down, 2-1, in the home and away series that will decide this Western Conference Semifinal.
This means Dallas not only has to win, but due to the away-goals rule, has to win by either 2 or more goals or by a 1-0 scoreline to advance. If Dallas wins 2-1 in regulation, the series will go to an overtime period, followed by kicks from the mark, if necessary.
The big question is can Oscar Pareja and his players find a way to crack the inevitable bus that the Sounders are going to park in front of their goal. Considering the scoreline, available players and styles of play, you pretty much can bet the house that Sigi Schmidt will have his team do all they can to keep their shape compact and close to goal as any tie puts them through, and other than a 1-0 loss, any one goal loss either keeps them alive or puts them through.
This dynamic is nothing new. In club football the world over, visiting teams often sit back in an attempt to force the home team to break them down to earn the victory. That only increases with the stakes, and for Seattle – who finally beat the team that has kept them from the Cup Final – the chance to break through and get an MLS Cup victory has to feel desperately real.
The Solution Sounds Simple
For possession teams like Dallas, that means they have to create movement. With the opponent sitting back, the chance to open them vertically is small, so this means they have to do it through width. Watch for Dallas to test Seattle vertically first – who knows, a breakdown by the Sounders is very possible – but then move side to side.
The danger with that is making sure Seattle’s forwards don’t pick off a pass to go on a break at Jesse Gonzalez, but for the lost part, that is a mistake the Dallas defense has avoided. Certainly the veteran group of Loyd, Hedges and Watson have been sure with the ball, and Hollingshead has generally been smart with the ball at his feet.
And It Is Possible
The good news is, unlike the 2010 MLS Cup final, where the TFC field’s size made working the ball around difficult, this game is at Toyota Stadium and the only thing keeping Dallas from moving the ball will be their own decisions.
Part of this strategy is to open up passing lanes for Muaro Diaz, but also part of it is to wear the opponents down. The fear we had in the 2010 Final at halftime was the lack of movement, plus the cooler weather, would allow the Rapids to stay fresh, and it proved itself to be true.
The weather will be cooler, but the rhythm of the team and the purpose of this group ought to see Dallas be able to move the ball at will.
That lays the groundwork for the difference-makers. Unlike the 2011 playoffs, where Dallas lost to the New York Red Bulls because they had lost David Ferreira and had no other players strong enough to unlock the NYRB bus, this year’s FCD side has Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios. If Diaz is starved of the ball, or crowded where he can’t get the ball to teammates, the rest of the team still has two quality players in the young Colombians to feed.
Its All About Michael Barrios
Ultimately, based on all this, the game will come down to Michael Barrios as Castillo is the player Seattle will be most aware of, not only because he was Dallas’ goalscorer last week, but generally because has been a high profile threat for Dallas for years, especially the last two.
So it will be up to Barrios, along with JeVaugn Watson, to get the ball often and find a way to be dangerous. Interestingly, they don’t need to find the scoresheet, but they do need to be dangerous enough that Seattle loses focus on Castillo or Diaz – or even Texiera or one of the holding midfielders.
The good news is that this pair have really found a rhythm on the right side for Dallas. In the regular season finale, they terrorized the Earthquake left. Some of the possession at that corner of the San Jose penalty area was down right embarrassing.
Bottom line – that dynamic must play out again for Dallas to advance. Without it, Pareja’s players will not generate enough chances to get the result they need.
It is interesting – this has been a dynamic we have touched on since the end of last season. Clearly, Barrios has been very effective in the second half of this season. Now we get to find out if he can be effective enough to get Dallas over the obstacle they failed to clear last year.