Match previews

Preview: Union at FC Dallas

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas
What: Regular season game
Where: FC Dallas Stadium, Frisco, Texas,  USA
When: 9 pm, Friday, July 4
Watch: CSN, MLS Direct Kick, MLS Live, DirecTV, SiriusXM FC
Whistle: Edvin Jurisevic; Linesmen: Paul Scott, Jonathan Johnson; Fourth Official: Jose Carlos Rivero

FC Dallas fans and Philadelphia Union fans have something in common: Their teams have been very good at losing points in winnable games this season.

Both Dallas and Philly come into tomorrow’s matchup on three-match unbeaten streaks in MLS (and five unbeaten overall). The Union showed off a stout defense and an opportunistic attack against New England last week while Dallas outplayed Columbus on the road, but left with a goalless draw thanks to some poor finishing from their rookie striker.

For Philly, this game is about putting together another counterattacking performance on the road. Dallas, meanwhile, needs to find some offense without the suspended Fabian Castillo. On the surface, this is a very winnable game for Philly. But there are plenty of warning signs for a team still rebuilding a fragile confidence.

Win with width

Dallas has two very good attacking fullbacks playing behind two wide midfielders who, in all likelihood, would rather be playing somewhere else on the pitch. Jair Benitez leads the team in assists from the left back position, playing behind the more centrally-inclined Michel. The two players work well together moving a defense around to create space for Benitez to put his dangerous crosses into the box.

Michel can move the ball well, but he is much more dangerous as a secondary option than as the go-to playmaker. Fortunately for the Union, the man Dallas built their offense around, Mauro Diaz, is out with a knee injury. Combined with Fabian Castillo’s extended red card suspension from a dust up against Portland, this means Michel is likely to be the most creative player on the pitch for the home side.

Interestingly, this also means Michel is likely to play a role similar to the one Union fans have seen Chaco Maidana adopt in recent matches. He will nominally be a wide player, but the Brazilian will have plenty of freedom to drift around the midfield and find dangerous spaces to set up shop. Central midfielders Adam Moffat and Victor Ulloa will sit deeper and protect the back four while trying to pull Amobi Okugo and his partner (Lahoud? Nogueira?) out of position so Michel can slip in behind them.

How will Edu handle it?

Michel’s position on the left poses an interesting question for the Union defense. Against New England, Sheanon Williams would charge into the midfield like Mel Gibson in a war movie to chase down any attacker that found space behind Michael Lahoud. Maurice Edu, on the other hand, tended toward a more conservative approach, balancing the aggression of his partner.

Will Edu be willing to step to Michel if he finds space in the channel behind Okugo, or will the Union simply rely on their young midfielder to track back effectively? This should be worked out ahead of time and how it works out could have a huge impact on the match. If Okugo has to chase Michel and gives up fouls around the box, the Union are in for a long night. The Dallas middie can strike a dead ball with the best of them.

Loyd threat

On the right side, Philadelphia has been given a reprieve from the dangerous runs of Fabian Castillo. The less threatening Ja-Vaughn Watson filled in against Columbus last Sunday and provided… well, a body in midfield. The real worry for the Union has to be the charging Zach Loyd, who can get up quickly from right back and provide quality service. Loyd combined well with rookie striker Tesho Akindele last weekend, allowing Dallas to bypass the crowded five-man Columbus midfield.

If Dallas relies heavily on their fullbacks for offense, they will leave gaps for the Union to exploit. With Vincent Nogueira’s status up in the air, Amobi Okugo may be tasked with starting the fast break and finding Danny Cruz and Sebastien Le Toux on the quick counter. Alternatively, the Union may seek to pull Maidana into a more traditional wide role and get him the ball early so he can drop balls into the box for Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux.

Can Casey go?

The Union’s best offensive threat, well, since Jack McInerney was traded, is listed as questionable for this match with a back strain. Casey’s most notable contributions this season have come in the form of much-needed goals, but he has also elevated Maidana’s game by drawing the attention of defenders when he drops into the hole in front of defense. With the extra time granted by Casey’s presence, Maidana has been able to show more of his creative skill set.

If Casey and Nogueira are both injured, the Union can restore Andrew Wenger to the lineup as a hold up man or turn to Leo Fernandes. Both options are less than ideal given the players’ middling form. The other option is to hand first round pick Pedro Ribeiro his first minutes of the season, and as attractive as that may sound to those of us on the outside, it seems like a long shot given the slow pace at which Ribeiro is being brought along this season.

Keep the ball, and keep it low

This rule applies mostly to the offensive third of the pitch. Dallas central defenders Matt Hedges and Stephen Keel are moderately athletic, but they would much rather be defending aerial attacks than through-balls that force them to play on the turn. The duo are very good at maintaining the proper distance from each other to defend crosses, and they only venture out of the box as an absolute necessity. If the Union find space in wide areas in the final third, they will have time to look up and cross, but they will always see Dallas bodies in the box.

Thus, movement and combination play can be a key element in breaking down the Dallas back line. When the Union counter, they cannot settle for crosses, but instead must drive at defenders and force them to play a game different from the one they prefer. Putting Hedges and Keel in one-on-one situations will pull them far from their comfort zones, and with Benitez and Loyd bombing forward, such favorable matchups should be possible.

More aggression in midfield?

Against New England, the Union struck a good balance between packing the zone in front of their box and pursuing the Revs to force long balls and errors. Dallas does not have the midfield playmakers that New England boasted (well, at least not healthy playmakers), so Philly can play a more high pressure style to close down Moffat and Ulloa in the middle. Both Dallas midfielders prefer to move the ball quick and short rather than try to create.

Okugo and Lahoud should be able to get close to them without worrying too much about a killer pass bypassing the midfield. Additionally, with Le Toux chasing the back line, Philly can force Dallas to play a more direct game than preferred. The onus will be on Michael Lahoud and Okugo to turn loose balls in midfield into quick forays forward.

How will Pareja play it?

Dallas coach Oscar Pareja is nothing if not creative with his midfield. He turned a youthful, athletic midfield into a nightmare of coordinated pressure in Colorado, and he is adept at targeting an opponent’s weakness and forcing them to play through it.

For Philadelphia, this means Pareja will be looking to force the ball — if he starts — toward Michael Lahoud. The Union midfielder’s resurgence has been marked by wonderful positional play and a conservative offensive approach. If Dallas is able to press Okugo and force the ball to Lahoud’s feet, the Union must respond by playing quickly and efficiently. Dallas can back off and ask Lahoud to make the killer pass if they have time to set up defensively. The best counter to this tactic is to move forward with speed so the opposition cannot get set.

Dallas attack: Just unlucky?

Pareja’s other big decision will be up top. Andres Escobar has shown signs of life over the past six weeks since returning from injury, but it is still unclear whether his best position is at striker or on the wing. Dallas generated very good scoring chances against Columbus, but Tesho Akindele missed a pair of sitters. The young striker looks like he has all the tools to be a danger man in MLS, but his concentration in front of goal has been lacking.

Akindele could continue up top with Blas Perez, pushing Escobar into midfield (likely in place of Je-Vaughn Watson on the right) or Pareja could pair Escobar with Perez and let Akindele come on as a late game nuisance. The Dallas coach seems to believe Akindele is a big part of the team’s future, and Escobar’s versatility means the most likely scenario sees him pushed into a wide role.

Prediction: Dallas 1-2 Union

If Casey cannot go, this prediction is null. But assuming he plays, the Union are catching Dallas at the right time. The home team has not figured out how to go forward without Diaz in the lineup, relying on Fabian Castillo to be the creative force in the side. Castillo is suspended, so the Union should be able to capitalize on meeting a team in flux.

The biggest questions will be 1) Can Fabinho stay close to Zach Lloyd? 2) Can Chaco Maidana continue his good form even if Casey doesn’t play? 3) Can Edu and Williams cope with the intelligent movement of Blas Perez? 4) Will the Union’s attempt to play a more uptempo defense result in the wild chasing that characterized bad outings under John Hackworth? and 5) Who do the Union bring off the bench if the offense needs a shot in the arm? Still Hoppenot, or will Ribeiro or Pfeffer leapfrog him on the depth chart?

Hi Chris Seitz!

The Union’s first ever starting goalie has found a home in Dallas and is coming off his second shutout of the 2014 campaign. Good to see Seitzy land on his feet after a less than perfect stint in Philadelphia. No matter what you think of him as a player, nobody can think of him as anything less than a great guy.

Projected Lineup
Lineup assuming Casey is healthy

Lineup assuming Casey is healthy



  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    A road win prediction… Wow. Now if it comes true, I may have to think this season might not be completely lost

  2. kingkowboys says:

    Love the keep the ball, keep it low point. This team historically has a habit of taking wide space and only turning that into opportunities to cross. That can’t happen, it leaves us open to the counter and is ineffective given the quality of Dallas in the air. I hope we see players driving at the box and smart movement around them. I want to see some fouls created around the box because we are taking guys on.
    I think we are lucking out with the injuries to Dallas. With limited speed we’ll be able to control the game better. It will come down to minimizing Michel impact and playing organized. Look for the counter, if not their establish possession.

  3. A road win here sets the tone for the 2nd half of the season. Curtin said it best, the summer stretch in the MLS is an opportune time to pick up points.
    Go out and get ’em, boys.

  4. Timothy H says:

    Only one point out of the Playoffs… Let’s do this!

  5. Jimmy Lyman says:

    I’m getting tingles. What if we keep winning? Dead cat bounce? No way! We got this. C’mon boys, 3 road points would be a very, very tasty treat for a hungry (and oh so loyal) fan base.
    “After a long delay Philadelphia Union flight 2014 is readying for takeoff. Please take your seats, and fasten your seatbelts.”


  6. Jimmy Lyman says:

    Does Dallas still have Andrew Jacobson? Does he play on the left side?

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