What Are They All About? FC Dallas
Sweet victory! Much to the chagrin of a visibly upset Peter Vermes, the Chicago Fire defeated Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on Wednesday night and extended their unbeaten home streak to seven matches across all competitions. The weather delay turned out to be a non-factor as new signing Michael de Leeuw notched his first career Fire goal and the squad was able to weather an on field storm to secure all three points. The win pushed Chicago above Eastern Conference rival Columbus Crew and into ninth place on goal difference.
The Fire will continue July’s hectic schedule as they hit the road again, this time to face Western Conference leaders FC Dallas. The Brimstone Cup is on the line but perhaps more importantly there is an opportunity for Chicago to end THE streak against a team they have historically dominated. Three points won’t move them up in the table but it would go a long way in building a foundation for a playoff push. Dallas enters the match on the back of a 5-0 thrashing by Seattle. The loss ended a four match winning streak for the Texan outfit. They will be looking to solidify their claim to the Supporters Shield by beating Chicago and their home record (7-0-3) suggests the Fire won’t leave with anything. Will Fire supporters witness the improbable or will they witness another press conference that praises the players’ effort after a tough result?
FC Dallas (Last Five Competitive Matches): L-W-W-W-W
Previous Match: A 5-0 away loss to Seattle Sounders.
Formation in Previous Match: 4-2-3-1; Seitz; David, Figueroa, Zimmerman, Harris; Ulloa, Ortiz; Akindele, Lizarazo, Hollingshead; Bonner
Strengths: FC Dallas are far and away the best team in the league. Yes, Colorado is close as far as points are concerned (three behind the league leaders) but Dallas has played more attractive soccer. With 31 goals scored Dallas is only bested by Philadelphia in the “goals for” category and Oscar Pareja has his players performing at a high attacking level. At times this FCD side has pundits checking their screens for the MLS logo just to be sure of what they’re watching. Speed, chemistry, tactical awareness, and impressive finishing have catapulted Dallas to their current position and it will take a truly special performance from Chicago to leave Texas with even a point.
Dominance: We could try to come up with quirky phrases or funny metaphors but let’s just be blunt: this FC Dallas side is downright scary. We will attempt to deconstruct their 5-0 loss below but other than that FC Dallas has rarely put a foot wrong this season and the past month has seen them perform at an exceptionally high level.
Defensive Organization: The recent win against San Jose truly highlighted Dallas’ capacity to win without possession and showcased their defense as much as their attack. Much of their success has to do with their tactics. Pareja’s 4-2-3-1 is anything but conservative but that doesn’t mean it lacks organization. The match against San Jose showcased his preferred line up at the back and was a master class in what the coach wants from his defenders. The clean sheet came on the back of the presence of stalwart center backs Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman with Maynor Figueroa and Atiba Harris playing on the outside.
Hedges and Zimmerman are 6’4” and 6’3” respectively and are a force to be reckoned with. They are partially responsible for all eight of Dallas’ clean sheets on the season and the match against San Jose saw them limit Chris Wondolowski to three shots and Quincy Amarikwa to one shot, none of which were on target. The pair likes to get forward for set pieces and when service is good so is their contribution to the goal sheet. Hedges and Zimmerman both scored headers against Orlando City earlier this month. One thing is clear, cheaply conceded free kicks will not go unpunished on Saturday.
While most RBs and LBs in MLS are expected to go forward, Figueroa and Harris are exceptional at their role of essentially being second wingers. Harris has the speed to get down the touch line and has had success with taking on opposing defenders, winning more duels than he’s lost in all five of Dallas’ most recent matches. Figueroa has impressed as well of late but will be missing on Saturday due to an early red card against Seattle. Pareja’s emphasis on his players understanding the system theoretically means that Aubrey David should slot in without a problem. Interestingly enough, neither outside back is expected to cross much as Dallas largely keeps the ball on the ground in open play so Campbell and Kappelhof’s aerial dominance won’t mean much in this one.
On the Front Feet: Dallas’ true strength comes from their dynamic midfield. While many 4-2-3-1 formations include two holding midfielders (like when Paunovic utilizes the formation) or one holding midfielder and a pivoting midfielder that links up with the attack, Pareja generally utilizes two attack minded midfielders.
The preferred starting two have recently been Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo with Victor Ulloa filling in during schedule congestion or injury spells. The pair had a 78% pass completion rate against San Jose, and 88% pass completion rate against Orlando and an 80% pass completion rate against Real Salt Lake. A majority of those passes were made into the final third. Acosta was rewarded for his efforts against RSL with an early goal after some nice build up play and the pair will certainly see Chicago’s lack of link up between the back line and the forward line as an area for exploitation.
The attacking, or rather “more attacking” midfield trio can be adjusted depending on the opposition but has consistently featured Michael Barrios, Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo. They have a unique understanding and a diverse skill set with Diaz pulling the strings with nine assists (imagine that, a successful team with an Argentine in the middle…), Barrios serving as almost a withdrawn second striker and leading the team with six goals, and Castillo using his speed on the wing knowing that he can cut in to score (five on the season) or provide the final pass (three assists). The dynamism and success of the midfield is illustrated by the fact that four of Dallas’ top five goal scorers are midfielders.
Barring suspension or injury Max Urruti has rounded out the starting eleven and Pareja seems to have gotten more out of him than Caleb Porter did. His movement has been more creative, he looks happier and his four goals and three assists don’t hurt either. If he needs a rest Tesho Akindele has shown he can slot into the lone forward well quite nicely. Either way, fluid movement and clinical finishing could cause Chicago to struggle on the road again.
Rallying Cry: This Dallas side has quality and passion all over the field, that’s for sure. They will have the added motivation of needing to send a message to Western conference rivals that their loss to the Sounders was a fluke and that they intend to remain on the perch of the table.
Weakness(es): Let’s face it, you don’t lose 5-0 without leaving the field with some egg on your face. Dallas’ loss to the Sounders along with a 5-0 thrashing by Houston in the Texas derby earlier in the season highlight that there are imperfections in Pareja’s system. This is only furthered when you look at back to back losses to Vancouver (3-0) and New York (4-0) in April. Yes, all of those losses were away from home but perhaps they can shine some light on where the Fire could succeed.
We’ll focus on the Seattle match. Whether it was due to schedule congestion (six matches in twenty days) or because they underestimated an underwhelming Sounders side, Pareja started a less than ideal line up. Colin Bonner was handed his first every professional start/appearance as the lone striker as was Aubrey David at left back. Adding to the lack of first team experience were defensive minded midfielder Juan Esteban Ortiz, who made his fourth Dallas appearance and first start, and Carlos Lizarazo who made his seventh season appearance and first start.
Needless to say, the starters did not impress. The typical fluid movement and team understanding was not there as Seattle took a 3-0 lead before the 22nd minute. A needlessly conceded PK which Clint Dempsey converted, miscommunication on goalie/defender positioning before an Andreas Ivanschitz chip, and a lack of marking on a Jordan Morris run and finish were responsible for the early deficit. An unkind deflection off of a hopeful Joevin Jones shot and atypical poor marking on a set piece finished the route.
The goals came from everywhere and the blame was collective. The result left Pareja questioning his squad depth and his trust was certainly shaken. If the result was reflective of a lack of quality outside the elven then the Fire are in luck. After Saturday’s match Dallas will go on to play Houston in the quarter final of the US Open Cup.
After their 5-0 thrashing at BBVA Compass stadium and a less than desirable 1-1 draw at home in their other meeting, the front office, supporters and the players will all have circled that match in their calendar. The cup match along with Chicago’s poor road form might mean that Dallas gambles with their line up again. It’s a stretch but so is Chicago’s away record.
Prediction: The streak doesn’t end here. Dallas will react to their loss with brutality. Chicago will put in the effort but it won’t translate to any points. Michael de Leeuw will continue to impress by adding another goal to his tally and Johan Kappelhof buries a late header to secure salvage some pride. Dallas 5-2 Chicago.