Match previews / US Open Cup

US Open Cup semifinal preview: Union at FC Dallas

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas
What: US Open Cup semifinal
Where: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
When: Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 9 pm
Whistle: Mark Geiger; Linesmen: Adam Garner, Jonathan Johnson; Fourth official: Edvin Jurisevic
Watch: Live stream on FC Dallas website. Also, follow @PhillySoccerPg on Twitter for live updates from the game.

Before Tuesday night’s US Open Cup semifinal, the last time Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas met, also in Frisco, a fluky own goal handed all three points to the home side.

Losing is never fun, but it can be a learning experience. And the Union can look back at Dallas’ performances over the past five weeks and see one thing clearly: They came as close to beating this Texas team as anybody.

Since losing at home to San Jose on May 31, Dallas has tasted defeat all of zero times in all competitions. They have drawn twice — Vancouver’s furious two-goal comeback in late July and a 0-0 finish in Columbus on Steve Clark Miracle Day — but have otherwise been unstoppable. Funny how you can go under the radar when your roster doesn’t feature a Dempsey or Donovan…

Offense in flight

Speaking of Dempsey, while he and Obafemi Martins have soaked up all the praise in the west, Dallas has conjured up what may be a more sustainable model of distributed scoring. Michel (boosted by five penalties), Blas Perez, Fabian Castillo, and Tesho Akindele all have four or more goals. Compare that to the Union, who have two players over the four goal mark, with Casey collecting six and Le Toux’s ten bolstered by four penalties.

Dallas has been held under two goals just twice in the past two months, but they have never lacked for opportunities. In a goalless draw against Columbus, the Crew twice cleared the ball off the line, and in a 1-0 win over Chivas USA, poor finishing from good positions let Dallas down.

A familiar, but more complex, system

The biggest issues for Dallas all season have been defense and injuries, and both are finally sorting themselves out. Playmaker Mauro Diaz is regaining fitness after a long layoff, Fabian Castillo is burning up the flanks, and the unlikely combination of Victor Ulloa and Adam Moffat have settled in front of the back four as somewhat reliable protectors.

But what makes Dallas so dangerous at full strength is the man on the bench. Oscar Pareja showed signs of becoming a top tier coach at Colorado, and he has solidified his resume in just half a season in the big chair at Dallas.

In simple terms, Pareja is using a more complex version of the system that has worked so well for Jim Curtin. Dallas concedes possession and shots — even at home — but breaks out efficiently and decisively. The complexity comes from the fullbacks, who overlap much better than their Union counterparts and thus create more space for their wide midfielders. Putting more bodies in the final third works when you have your spacing right, and Dallas often does, creating opportunities for Tesho Akindele and Blas Perez to roll off defenders deep in the box; eight penalties means a lot of time spent in dangerous areas.

The last time these teams met, the Union did not do a good job tracking Akindele’s off the ball runs. The rookie is a smart, powerful player who could see double-digits on the scoring sheet when he starts to shoot more often. Right now, the biggest threat he creates is through his running, which pulls defenders deep and gives Fabian Castillo space to run with the ball. And when Castillo runs with the ball, defending can become a haphazard mess.

Union lineup questions
I think we all know how this changes if Le Toux is healthy...

I think we all know how this changes if Le Toux is healthy…

It would be surprising to see Cristian Maidana return directly to the starting lineup, so the Union will likely trot out a similar lineup to the one that snuck by Montreal.

One question mark will be Amobi Okugo. Does the young midfielder slot into Brian Carroll’s role after the captain put in a subpar shift on Saturday? Does he step in for the equally underwhelming Ethan White? The most likely scenario is an Edu-Okugo base behind Nogueira. While this pushes the Frenchman too high to be fully effective, it allows Curtin to pull one of his deeper midfielders (likely Okugo) or Nogueira (if tired) for Maidana.

With the center of the pitch sorted out, the Union simply hold their breath and hope that Sebastien Le Toux’s ankle is stable. Conor Casey has done yeoman’s work this season and looked tired against Montreal. The Dallas backline, possibly anchored by the big bodies of Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman, will be physical, meaning the Union need Le Toux’s running to pin back Dallas’ fullbacks and drag the men in the middle away from the dread pirate Casey.

If you are looking for two things to watch that could ultimately determine the outcome of this match, keep your eyes on the Dallas fullbacks and the Union defensive midfielders. If one of those duos does a better job of joining attacks in a timely and effective matter, their team will be on the front foot. If the Union midfielders intelligently step forward, and if Philly can track fullback runs consistently, they should get the opportunities they need to win the match without conceding easy chances.

One final question will be Carlos Valdes’ fitness. The Colombian made a majestic return Saturday, but it was clear he was running on adrenaline. If he is not ready to go Tuesday, it makes the lineup easier to predict, but it pulls a very good player out of the mix.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    “One question mark will be Amobi Okugo. Does the young midfielder slot into Brian Carroll’s role after the captain put in a subpar shift on Saturday?” — Ummm… he better. Carroll must have the same pictures on Curtain that he had on Hackworth. That’s the only explanation I can give as to why Carroll continues to play.
    Also, “subpar” is being very polite.

  2. I don’t see how Casey plays this game. He looked dead Saturday and this is a quick turnaround. Who does this leave to fill his spot? Wenger, Brown, wheeler, Ribeiro? Assuming Le Toux is out. I’d go with a 4-1-2-1-2.
    Williams, White, Valdes, Gaddis
    Edu, Nogueira
    Brown, Wenger

  3. If Maidiana is ready to go as a sub why not take Cruz off. He is a liability.

  4. I think we need to rotate our squad a bit more for this game–it could go 120 min. That might mean crossing our fingers on some guys to step up:

    Gaddis, Berry, Edu, Fabinho
    Cruz, Okugo, Lahoud, Maidana (or Wenger)
    LeToux, Brown

  5. All valid points concerning lineup questions. I think my proposed lineup is far from certain.

    To summarize the biggest questions:
    1) Can Le Toux go?
    1a) Swap in Wenger?
    1b) Swap in Maidana?
    1c) Swap in Brown?

    2) Can Casey go?
    2a) Swap in Brown?
    2b) Swap in Wenger?
    2c) Um… Swap… in… Ribeiro?

    3) Can Valdes go?
    3a) Drop Edu back?
    3b) Swap in Okugo?
    3c) Um… Austin Berry is still a thing, right?

    4) If Okugo/Edu plays in back… Brian Carroll?
    4a) Can he hang with a speedy Dallas team?
    4b) What about Lahoud?
    4c) Drop Nogueira deeper and… Fred or Ribeiro?
    4d) Drop Nogueira and… Leo Fernandes is still a thing, right?

    • That’s quite a list. If it helps, I’m pretty sure Ribeiro can’t play in this game as he’s US Open Cup-tied to Harrisburg. I think that’s how it works, at least. Also, any question involving Brian Carroll playing should be immediately crossed out.

  6. Suggestions for your linup.

    1) Valdez looked gassed after the game on Saturday. Take him out, and move Edu back to the defense.

    2) Move Nogs back to CDM.

    3) If Chaco is ready to go, put him in CAM. If not, then Fred or Lahoud.

    3a) Cruz out. Fred or Lahoud in.

    4) Brown for Casey. Time to see what the kid has, and Casey looked tired on Saturday.

    • Lahoud at CAM? God no. Unless you mean put Lahoud in at CDM and move Nogueira to CAM, that is reasonable.

      • Now that you mention it…

        Nogs just doesn’t do well at CAM.

        Fernandes, however, is overlooked (see below)by everyone.

        So, Lahoud for Cruz and Leo in at CAM.

    • Everyone must have forgotten about Leo Fernandes.

      In my opinion, he is the closest like-for-like on the Union roster for Maidana. He would stay higher up the field then Noggy and is more creative then most other players on the roster. The first few games of the season he was one of the Union’s best players then had a poor showing or two and now has not even got a minute but I think he showed enough talent early in the year to see more time. I agree about Valdes – is he fit enough to go another 90 on a short turn around? Also Casey looked completely dead on his feet.

      Considering everything I would say we go:

      .-Le Toux—Fernandes–Cruz-

      But if Le Toux can’t go on that ankle then I would say go with Pfeffer on the right but I could also see moving Wenger to the wing and bringing in Wheeler in his natural position taking Casey’s role as a target man. I hear the boos already but the Wheeler hate is tainted by Hack’s trotting him out at centerback – he is actually a pretty solid backup option for Casey and has more MLS experience then Pfeffer.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I agree with most of your thought process, but I think Brian Brown is in the running to start in that situation. Wheeler has never proved to have the goods even at striker and at this point, both Wenger and Brown are better options.

      • Brown certainly has goal-scoring instinct but so far he really seems to be struggling with the physicality of the MLS. I don’t know if he is ready to grind away for 60-90mins and that is why I suggested Wheeler may be an option. Plus, I think Brown is a great option off the bench with his speed against a tired defense. Wheeler can hold up the ball pretty well and flick headers on to Cruz/Le Toux/etc coming in from the wings and is a real handful on set pieces especially considering Dallas has all 6’4″ of Hedges at the back. Wenger is the best option up top if Casey needs a rest but if Le Toux and Maidana is out then we are thin on the wings and might have to play him there. I guess Fred could also start at CAM, Leo at LM, and Cruz at RM then Wenger can start up top.

        Also don’t forget that Wheeler did this…

  7. Maybe USOC does us all a favor by not streaming. Thanks to JC overusing Valdes & Casey, under using Brown & Wenger and refusing to use Ribeiro & Pfeffer, this has the makings of an ambush.

  8. Old soccer coach says:

    Put your strongest defensive team on the field. Pair Valdes and Edu at center back. Pair Okugo and Nogueira at defensive center mid. Put Gaddis on the more threatened flank and Williams on the other, although the natural inevitable increase in the pace and quality of play that occurs every season is beginning to expose Gaddis. Cruz and Le Toux (I am guessing he will try; how effective he will be is a question) Casey, and start Fred at attacking center mid with Maidana planned for the last half hour there. MacMath in goal, as M’Bolhi has had not time to get to know his back line. They are underdogs, away, to a fellow counter attacking side. They did play well last time down there this season.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I would move Gaddis to RB and there he would stay.

    • Completely agree with your proposed lineup. And in response to some other comments about Fernandes, I’d much rather see what Ribeiro can do at the CAM spot than Leo.

      • The Black Hand says:

        It would be a mistake to throw Ribeiro in such an important position, without having him train with the club first. (The bigger blunder has been: not having this kid up yet).
        I don’t think that Fernandes has the “stuff” needed to be a focal point. I think that Fred is our best option, after Chaco.

  9. This game is going to be an ugly grind. Even uglier b/c we all know the stream isn’t going to work. Nothing better than monitoring the game via Twitter when the other squad has 70% possession. Gotta love 90 minutes of feverish smartphone refreshing. sighhhhhh

    • This is such a prescient response! I’m afraid you nailed it. No beautiful game tonight. After Saturday’s underwhelming performance, I’d be shocked with a W. On the other hand, the saving grace is that they have played so well on the road…with no SOB giving them added pressure, I suppose they have a decent shot of pulling it out.

  10. DOOP! Congratulations to the Union!
    Condolences to Dallas and their 800 supporters in attendance tonight.

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