Match previews

Preview: Union vs FC Dallas

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

What: Union vs FC Dallas
When: 5:30 pm EST
Where: PPL Park, Chester, PA, USA
What: MLS Regular Season
TV: NBC Sports Network
Referee: Allen Chapman; Linesmen: Adam Wienckowski, Matthew Kreitzer; Fourth Official: Daniel Radford

It has been over a year since the Union faced FC Dallas and almost two since the Texans entered PPL Park. Last season was rough for both teams, and 2013 has been a important bounce-back year. After selling Brek Shea and missing the playoffs by four points, Dallas have put themselves back together as a contender in a stacked Western Conference. Though they only have one player with more than three goals, Dallas’ June 15 loss to Portland was the first time they were shut out all season.

Dallas form

At this point last season, Dallas had nine — count ’em, nine — losses. Now they have three. While they are only 2-2-4 in their last eight, this is a Dallas team that thinks they can go deep in the playoffs.

Some say home field advantage is overrated. Not against FC Dallas. Fourteen of the 20 goals Dallas has given up have come in their six road matches. In their last two road matches, Dallas gave up four to a rampant Seattle squad and then surrendered to Portland after Darlington Nagbe cleared space on his Goal of the Week award shelf with a no-look spinner.

Though only one point out of first place in the West, Dallas has been struggling to rediscover its identity, with only two wins in its last eight. The stats tell the story: Teams have dictated play to Dallas, and the offensive cohesion that propelled them to the top has been absent since late April.

Union update

The Union, on the other hand, are tapping a rich vein of form offensively. US Open Cup struggles aside, Philadelphia brutalized Columbus and the New York Red Bulls in successive matches. Importantly, a combination of players has finally relieved the pressure on Jack McInerney, who can feel more comfortable with the situation he’s leaving behind when he heads off for the Gold Cup.

Philadelphia has relied on much improved wing play to punish two notoriously narrow teams. While New York was hindered by injuries, their game plan remained geared toward exploiting the Union down the supposedly soft center. Brian Carroll’s early season struggles are well-documented, and Keon Daniel’s form has hovered somewhere far below his potential. But along with Michael Farfan, the Union’s middle has produced more organized displays over the past few matches.

Seba space

Sebastien Le Toux’s relentless running used to torture an opposing defense. As they grew tired, he worked harder.

Once he was moved to the wing, Le Toux still chased, but his lack of discipline showed when he would get caught too high or too far inside.

Recently the Union legend has struck the balance between work rate and shape, and it is paying huge dividends for his team.

Le Toux is the rare player who can track back and then burst forward with pace. He has discovered that tracking back actually opens up space by letting the outside back drift forward. On the counter, Le Toux can pressure the back and, if he doesn’t get the outlet pass, step wide into the gap he just created between the fullback and his midfielder. It may just be the most useful application of Seba’s particular set of skills.

And the Union are using Le Toux well. His improved crosses have been met with strong runs through the middle, and the space left behind the Frenchman has been dutifully filled by Sheanon Williams. On the opposite flank, Danny Cruz’s reluctance to adopt a more disciplined approach is meshing with Ray Gaddis’ fear of going forward on the left to create an offensively threatening yet defensively questionable stasis.

Can this version of the Union beat Dallas?

Absolutely. Dallas has had trouble with teams that dictate the pace of play, and the Union have been able to do that through Le Toux. Conor Casey’s hold up play has also helped Philly transition out of the back with more success as the season has progressed.

But there is a catch, and it’s a a big one.

The defense has to be flawless. From organized defending to elite-level scramble blocking, to Zac MacMath owning the box with unbreakable confidence—everything must come off perfectly.

Dallas has weapons all over the field: Perez and Union-killer Cooper up top, Jackson and Ferreira in support, and Jacobson chipping in with late runs. The beautiful secret behind Dallas’ success is that things don’t have to be perfect for them to win. They are a team that can thrive in a chaotic atmosphere. The teams that have given them big trouble are those that have a clear strategy in the offensive third and execute that plan with aplomb. Though Dallas lost to Seattle, they still dropped two goals on the resurgent Sounders.

The goal for Dallas is exceedingly simple. So simple, in fact, that it seems a lot like it should end with “…and then, magic!” Get the ball into the opponent’s final third as fast and as often as possible. (and then, magic!).

Led by Ferreira at the wheel, Dallas can probe for a weakness and exploit it with astounding consistency. If Schellas Hyndman’s team is having success up the right, then they are going to go up the right until things change. If they can play off Cooper, they will play off Cooper. If Michel is finding space up the wing, Dallas floods the box and lets their big guys bang around until something bounces their way.

It doesn’t sound effective, but with Ferreira on the ball, “magic” is a surprisingly common outcome. Additionally, those of you with a good working knowledge of the Union’s defensive struggles may notice an increase in palm sweat right now, because the flexible nature if Dallas’ attack means a big test for the Philly back line.

The Union are athletic and industrious in the back, and, individually, they tend to make good decisions. But the collective organization has not been consistent enough over the course of ninety minutes. Set piece breakdowns and trouble dealing with late runs have been masked by a good run of luck. But leaving the back side runner free against Dallas is a great way to find out just how many the Texans can score.

Flaws in the big D’s big D

For a back line featuring a behemoth like George John, Dallas has a surprising amount of trouble clearing their own box. Both of Sporting Kansas City’s goals came off of set pieces, and it was the chaos that Dallas thrives on offensively that did them in. Poor organization often leaves Andrew Jacobson man-marking the best big man on the other team, but it only takes one pick to clear space because Dallas tends to leave Jacobson on an island.

Essentially, if Jacobson can fight through, the bodies things are fine. But if he gets picked off, there is very little in terms of understanding and support. The Union have enough players capable of getting involved to exploit this weakness and put Dallas down early.


Unlike the Red Bulls match, this is not a must-win or huge statement game. Dallas got off to a hot start but has lost an edge over the past two months. Beating them will look good because of their place in the conference, but how much it will say about the Union to beat a bad, slumping road team is unclear.

What should be perfectly clear is this: The Union can beat Dallas. And the impending loss of Jack McInerney to international duty raises the stakes quite a bit.

And there is one other thing: The Union started the season 1-2-2 at home. Since the Galaxy spat them out and left them to crawl home licking their wounds, the Union have reeled off three straight wins and boast a +7 goal differential at PPL Park. Zac MacMath hasn’t surrendered a goal at home since Landon Donovan rolled one in and immediately demanded a Gold Cup roster spot and a new rattle. The 2011 Union were built on a foundation of home field defense. Fort Chester was once nearly impenetrable, and it meant that any road slipups could be treated as such; once the team returned to the friendly confines the results would come. Unexpectedly, this has become the trend in 2013 as well.

Prediction: 1-1

I’m actually thinking 0-0, but these two teams have scored too much to predict a scoreless match. Let’s see if McInerney puts himself atop the league leaders list before he flies out to show off his post-scoring scowl to an international audience.




  1. Andy Muenz says:

    If we’re going to predict a tie, let’s get greedy and say 3-3 with Jack getting a hat trick to convince Jorgen to start him against Belize!

  2. I’m going to predict a 2-1 scoreline with a late McInerney goal giving the U 3 point on the road.

  3. 1-1? You’re talking about two of the better offensive teams in the league, each with a host of weapons, and each of which has underperformed on defense. I would predict a 2-2 draw, and the 3-3 score line that Andy Muenz predicted would not surprise me.

    I think the key for the U. is going to be Michael Farfan. If he can distribute, we score. If the middle gets bottled up, we lose to a team that can extemporize (due to having so many options).

    Part of the Union’s success the last two MLS matches has been Keon Daniel’s play. Since he’s gone for this match, we may get an answer to a key question: did he play well, and make it easier for Carroll and Le Toux and the CBs to look good, or did Carroll and Le Toux step up their game and allow Daniel to look better? In other words, which was cause and which was effect? And can Michael Farfan re-create — or even improve upon — that midfield chemistry?

  4. Loyd and John didnt travel to PHilly.


    How lucky are we?

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