13 July 2012

Three keys for FCD against Colorado on TXA 21 Saturday night

After almost two months without working an FC Dallas game, I’m back on the call in the Metroplex on Saturday night, teaming up with Ian Joy on the TXA 21 broadcast of FC Dallas-Colorado Rapids at 8 p.m. CT.

These teams met back on May 6 in Frisco, with Colorado winning 2-0 after Daniel Hernandez and Blas Pérez were BOTH sent off in a three-minute span in the first half, leaving Dallas with just nine men for the rest of the game.

A lot has happened since then, and some Thursday night rumors have been heating up about Toronto midfielder Julian de Guzman potentially being traded to Dallas. But regardless of whether or not FCD has a new center mid, here are three of the key matchups for FC Dallas on Saturday:

  1. Set Pieces – Big in any game, set pieces loom especially large because of Colorado’s recent troubles defending them and a serious FC Dallas size advantage. Colorado’s tallest regulars are Conor Casey and Jeff Larentowicz at 6-foot-1. After that, Drew Moor at 6-foot-0 and Jaime Castrillon at 5-foot-11 are next tallest. As you can see above, Colorado’s set-piece strategy has been to position Larentowicz and Moor as zonal markers along the 6-yard box, with 4-6 man markers at the top of the penalty area and nobody covering either post. That leaves shorter players, other than Casey, marking opponents’ primary targets, so driven delivery that lands between the zonal markers can put the Rapids under serious pressure.
    Dallas, meanwhile, boasts big targets in Matt Hedges (6-4), Brek Shea (6-3), Andrew Jacobson (6-2), James Marcelin (6-2) if he starts, and Hernan Pertúz (6 feet). That’s four players taller than Colorado’s tallest, not counting goalkeepers. What’s more, David Ferreira is back and can provide consistently dangerous service, something Daniel Hernandez has struggled to do. After Seattle scored two goals on poor Rapids marking last week, expect Schellas Hyndman and Dallas to look for set pieces early and often. On the other side, it will be interesting to see if Oscar Pareja sticks with the same marking system or tries something new to fix a recurring problem.
  2. Defending the Dynamic Duo – Feared as one of the most formidable forward tandems in MLS, Conor Casey and Omar Cummings are a handful for any defense. Colorado is fourth in MLS in scoring at home, averaging two goals per game, which will test a young Dallas back line (Zach Loyd-24 years old, Hernan Pertúz-22,Matt Hedges-22,Carlos Rodriguez-21) that has grown confident after allowing just one goal in the last three games. All three of those games were at home, however; Dallas has the second-worst road defense in MLS, allowing 2.13 goals per road game. Meanwhile, Casey and Cummings have only started together twice this season, but the Rapids had 31 shots in those two games, and expect to see them put a lot of pressure on Kevin Hartman in goal.
  3. Second Stanza – While Dallas is one of the worst second-half teams in MLS, Colorado is one of the best. The Rapids have scored 18 of their 25 goals in the second half, including nine goals in the final 15 minutes, which trails only the 'Goonies-never-die' Earthquakes in MLS. Dallas, meanwhile, has surrendered 21 goals in the second half, ranking second-worst after only expansion Montreal. Perhaps most surprisingly, Dallas has only trailed at halftime twice this season, yet its record when leading or tied at the half is a frustrating 3-7-7. Dallas is going to have to close the deal to break either its four-game road losing streak or its 14-game all-competitions winless streak.

* A reminder that you can use Twitter to ask questions of myself and analyst Ian Joy during Saturday’s game by using the hashtag #FCDTV- we'll answer some questions prior to the second-half kickoff.

These matchups are very subject to change, because both teams are unpredictable in terms of formation and personnel, especially with Colorado’s different formations (4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1) and Dallas’ continued injuries and now personal absences. Blas Pérez, sadly, lost his father this week, so you have to assume he won’t be in the lineup, which leaves Dallas without a proven forward. Brek Shea has been playing up top, but we know he’s more comfortable as a wide midfielder. Despite his inconsistency, the speedy Fabian Castillo has a favorable matchup against Colorado right back Hunter Freeman, so I think we might see Shea stay up top.

I'm really interested to see how these teams fare and how their coaches handle some big decisions this weekend - join us on TXA 21 for the broadcast at 8 p.m. CT!

12 July 2012

Home-grown cage match: FC Dallas vs. Toronto FC

The FC Dallas signing of home-grown defender/midfielder Kellyn Acosta on Thursday got me thinking. If the two most successful MLS academies in terms of home-grown players signed (7 each, by FC Dallas and Toronto FC) met on the field with only those players, who would win?

Here's what such a 7-on-7 matchup could look like, although the size and surface of the field and the rules of the game would surely affect how teams chose to lineup.

FC DALLAS (2-2-2)
GK Richard Sanchez (18yo)
DF Kellyn Acosta (16yo) ------------------ DF Moises Hernandez (20yo)
 MF Victor Ulloa (20yo)
MF Bryan Leyva (20yo)
FW Jonathan Top (19yo) ------------------ FW Ruben Luna (20yo)

FW Keith Makubuya (19yo)
MF Nicholas Lindsay (19yo) ------------------------------- MF Matt Stinson (19yo)
MF Oscar Cordon (19yo)
DF Ashtone Morgan (21yo) ------------------ DF Doneil Henry (19yo)
GK Quillan Roberts (17yo)
TORONTO FC (2-3-1)

Now it's an interesting game, but I'm giving the edge to Toronto because the combined experience of Morgan and Henry at the back would cancel out the main Dallas advantage - two forwards who have seen MLS game time - and limit Toronto's disadvantage in goal, where I think Richard Sanchez is further along than Quillan Roberts.

I like the Ulloa/Leyva tandem in the midfield, but even if Top dropped in to match Toronto's numbers, I don't think Dallas is getting on the board. Makubuya has yet to make his MLS debut, so Toronto could struggle up front, but the speed of a healthy (for the purposes of this exercise) Lindsay against the green duo of Acosta and Hernandez would put Toronto over the top.

Who do you think would make a difference in this game? Who would come out on top?

09 July 2012

My inner Canadian

I covered today's Toronto-Philadelphia game as a free-lance writer for The Canadian Press, and I was so inspired that I even sang along to, "O Canada," in the press box. The English words, though, not the French.

The game itself was one-sided, which means finding good quotes and story angles can be difficult, but both Terry Dunfield and Jeremy Hall were very classy and well-spoken in defeat, so my thanks to them.

So far, my wondrous prose has appeared on the website of The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and MetroNews Canada (with a huge, bold headline). Pretty cool! And yes, they switched out my "defense" for "defence" ... stylistic differences we may not solve overnight.

But seriously, everybody from TCP has been really helpful and classy to deal with, so my thanks to them for the second chance this year to work together.

01 July 2012

Catching up from Saturday's blackout

While visiting Maryland for the weekend, I got caught in Saturday's blackout and spent the afternoon and evening sweating bullets in a powerless, wireless house, trying to take care of a couple of rambunctious canines. When reconnected to the world this morning, it seems I missed a stirring soccer Saturday in MLS.

Folks on Twitter kindly informed me that the Galaxy-San Jose game was mandatory viewing, so I had time to watch significant parts of that game and the Houston-Philadelphia game (old hometown vs. current city) before kicking back for Euro 2012 coverage. Here are five thoughts from those two games:

  1. The atmosphere and emotion in the Galaxy-Earthquakes game was, as everybody else has already said, exceptional. It was a great night to showcase the league with a game that had intrigue well beyond the 4-3 scoreline, and it in some ways validated the MLS decision to go to an unbalanced schedule: More rivalry games means more potential for emotional encounters like this one. I now want to watch the October 21 game between these teams way more than I want to see the Galaxy or Quakes play another game against Columbus or Toronto.
  2. Geoff Cameron, who has been sloppy at best sometimes this year, turned in one of his best performances Saturday against Philadelphia. Moved into midfield in Dominic Kinnear's surprise (and effective) switch to match the Union's 4-3-3, Cameron showed off flashy dribbling moves, inventive passes, and hard tackling. He made mistakes, but certainly showed well for a potential move to Europe. I've always thought Cameron was best in midfield, where his height and size make him an outlier, and particularly at D-mid, where he excelled in the 2008 SuperLiga semifinal.
  3. Boniek Garcia appears to be a keeper. The Honduran right wing, who should simply be called 'Garcia' on second reference, both in print and on air, was thrown right into the starting lineup after two training sessions and was everything Houston wanted. He's technical on the ball, but what stood out to me was how he used his body to throw defenders off balance even when making simple passes. He played a big part in both of Houston's goals, defended honestly, and is exactly the additional offensive weapon the Dynamo needed in midfield.
  4. I hope MLS finally punishes David Beckham for his immature petulance. Hopefully you've seen it by now: Beckham, feeling aggrieved from a night of physical play and close decisions, intentionally kicked a ball at a prone opponent during a stoppage in play. Brek Shea got three games for kicking a ball at an official (an act that was far less pre-meditated than Beckham's); I think Beckham's suspension should exceed that one.
  5. An end-zone camera should be a non-negotiable component for every MLS broadcast. The LA-San Jose broadcast, by ESPN, showed us some of the potential of having cameras throughout the stadium, with great angles used to illustrate key calls. The Houston-Philly game, with an understandably smaller production, missed its chance to show the game by choosing not to use an end-zone camera. All three goals could have been better understood by fans with use of an end-zone angle, especially Keon Daniel's goal (which I believe took a wicked deflection other cameras could not detect) and Brian Ching's penalty kick. Adding a camera for every production is a significant cost, but one worth paying.
There's plenty more I still need to see, but those two games were great preparation for the Euro 2012 final.