Match previews

Match preview: FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Daniel Studio

Who: FC Dallas (5th place, 9 points, 2-0-3) vs. Philadelphia Union (8th place, 5 points, 1-2-2)
What: 2018 regular season game
Where: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Tx.
When: Sat., Apr. 21 @ 8pm
Watch: ESPN+, PHL17
Whistle: Alan Kelly; C.J. Morgante, Jeremy Hanson; Alejandro Mariscal; Luis Guardia

Everyone knows about New York City FC’s hot start. They are, after all, the only team yet to lose in MLS this season.

Well… not quite.

Philadelphia Union travel to Frisco, TX this weekend to face a quietly undefeated FC Dallas side looking to rebound after a disastrous end their 2017 season.

It’s fair to say club formerly known as the Burn have flown under the radar. New York City FC have sparkled in their start, winning five games and posting a league-best plus-10 goal differential. FC Dallas, however, have won just two games while drawing three.

That undefeated start, then, masks some worrying signs: Dallas has had a softer schedule than even the Union to open their season. And despite playing their first four matches at home, Dallas went just 1-0-3 before winning on the road in Foxborough against New England.

If Philadelphia is going to win its first game since their matchup against the Revs, they’ll need to overcome two things that have little to do with Dallas: their road woes and anemic attack.

Concerning the former, Philly is fortunate. The Union escape the brutal heat that comes with a midsummer trip to Toyota Stadium thanks to this early trip south, although projected thunderstorms threaten to delay the match.

The latter issue poses the far greater challenge. Philadelphia have failed to score much against the less-than-formidable defenses of Orlando and San Jose. FC Dallas’ back line is an entirely different animal.

Scouting report: FC Dallas

Putting the ‘D’ in Big D

If the Union are to correct their scoring struggles, they’ll need to do so against the team that has allowed the fewest goals in MLS. Overall, FC Dallas have surrendered only three goals on the year. Throughout the rest of MLS, only Colorado Rapids have allowed fewer than six.

It’s not just that Dallas is preventing goals: they are preventing chances. Only Toronto FC have a lower expected goals against than FC Dallas’ 4.8 xGA.

The key to their defense starts with the man who has anchored the back line since 2012, center back Matt Hedges. The U.S. international is an imposing presence at 6’4″ and rarely struggles implementing his will against opposing attackers.

The rest of Hedges’ brothers at the back, though, are unfamiliar faces. FC Dallas went out and revamped a defense that allowed a respectable 48 goals in 2017. Swiss center back Reto Ziegler and Bulgarian left back Anton Nedyalkov were brought in from Europe and have excelled straight away.

On the right side, head coach Oscar Pareja has his own talented teenage Homegrown to call upon. Right back Reggie Cannon has made all five of his professional starts this season and has been a revelation. Much like the Union center back Auston Trusty, Cannon looks destined earn national team call-ups and an eventual move to Europe.

If Cannon and Nedyalkov control the flanks against the Union, it’s tough to envision Philadelphia breaking down Dallas’ stout defense.

Misery loves company

The Union aren’t alone in their goal-scoring drought.

FC Dallas have scored just one goal in four out of five games. Much like the Union, the one game in which Dallas tallied multiple times was fueled by a first half red card against Seattle.

The issues start at the top for the home squad. Dallas have been searching for a capable forward for what seems like ages. Argentinian Maxi Urruti has been with the club since 2016, but has only broken double digits once. It’s safe to say he is goal hungry, and he approaches the attack — for better or worse — with that mindset. Urruti is like a black hole in the final third. If the ball enters his gravitational pull, it’s likely to be fired into another dimension, never to be seen again.

Pareja thought he found the answer when the club acquired Cristian Colmán as a Designated Player before last season.

Pareja was wrong.

The Paraguayan forward scored only twice in 2017 and was benched in favor of Urruti.

Colmán, though, is the antithesis to Urruti. He makes smart, intelligent runs in the box, opening space and letting the attack breathe. The 24-year-old is team-first guy, just as willing to lay off a pass or occupy a defender as he is to take a shot. His only issue is one that renders everything he does, well, moot; his finishing in front of goal makes Union winger Fafa Picault look like David Villa.

  • Injury report: OUT— Brandon Servania (M, compartment syndrome), Jesus Ferreira (F, core muscle repair surgery), Paxton Pomykal (M, right meniscus surgery), Maynor Figueroa (D, right knee strain)
    QUESTIONABLE— Kellyn Acosta (M, sports hernia surgery)
  • Suspensions: None

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

It’s simple

The Union need to score.

It doesn’t matter how many chances they’ve created. It doesn’t matter how “unlucky” they’ve been. It doesn’t matter that FC Dallas have the best defense they’ve faced so far or that they’re playing 1,500 miles away from Talen Energy Stadium.

The Union need to finish.

If head coach Jim Curtin doesn’t believe in the direct play of pacey wingers David Accam and Picault, maybe the jazz-like Ilsinho should see extended action. If forward C.J. Sapong battles and battles but just can’t put one past goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, maybe first-year forward Cory Burke can see if his clinical finishing with Bethlehem translates to MLS action. And if No. 10 Borek Dockal continues struggling to adjust to his new team, definitely play another kid, Anthony Fontana.

But Curtin cannot worry about the ifs yet.

Accam, Dockal, and Sapong are the Union’s most talented attackers. Philadelphia’s hope of season-long success is dependent on their success in the final third.  There have been flashes of a potentially brilliant attack, but the attackers have yet to flash at the same time.

If the offense again stalls in Frisco, the if will become the when.

  • Injury report: OUT— Fabinho (D, right meniscus surgery recovery), Richie Marquez (D, sports hernia surgery)
  • Suspensions: None

Player to watch: Mauro Diaz

FC Dallas’ dynamic No. 10 Mauro Diaz was not in the lineup last week against New England. That was likely due to the turf at Gillette Stadium as Diaz is bouncing back from a horrific knee injury. The Argentine should be back in the starting eleven this weekend, and the Union’s chances of success will be the worse for it. Diaz is a chance-creating machine, and his eye-popping 4.0 key passes per game rank second in MLS. If the Union are to shut down Dallas, they must start with shutting down Diaz.

Key matchup: Roland Lamah vs. Keegan Rosenberry

While FC Dallas might not have the deadliest collection of forwards, they do have a lethal winger in Roland Lamah. The Belgian international is fast, strong, and creative — often drifting centrally or swapping sides with fellow winger Michael Barrios. With center back Jack Elliott’s status up in the air due to injury (though unlisted on the latest injury report), Homegrown defender Mark McKenzie could make his first MLS start next to right back Keegan Rosenberry. Rosenberry will need to support his inexperienced back line partner, and that starts by controlling FC Dallas’ best attacking option.

Prediction: FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union

This really is a winnable match for the Union. Despite their unbeaten start, FC Dallas have looked far from invincible. Still, the Union need to first prove themselves before they can inspire any confidence. It’d be foolish to predict a victory when Dallas haven’t lost in 10 straight home matches and the Union haven’t shown they can succeed on the road.

Oh, and there’s that whole three goals scored vs. three goals conceded thing.

Maybe next week it’ll be easier to predict a Philadelphia victory.

Maybe.

7 Comments

  1. I just want to see the kids out there still. Atleast if we lose again we can say we are playing the youth.

  2. I’m generally optimistic with the teams that I support. Even in down years I try to see the good in things.
    .
    But a voice in the back of my head keeps saying “the Union are going to win this game like 3-1 in dominating fashion, leading everyone to start talking about how they finally turned the corner only to see them lose or draw the following 5 games without scoring a single goal.”
    .
    And they say this organization doesn’t have an identity…

    • ^^^THIS is precisely the identity of this team. Utterly confounding. Just when you think they could not possibly have a chance, they storm out and crush somebody like overripe fruit.

      And then you believe that the team that was capable of doing that is clearly capable of playing at a higher level, so in response… they completely sh*t the bed for the ensuing month.

  3. The Union’s performance against Dallas last year was among its best all season. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

  4. Thank goodness we are going there in April.

  5. This franchise is completely adrift. We spend money on garbage and then run out our Academy products who are constantly moletely unprepared and overmatched. Being local is not sufficient reason for Tristy and McKenzie to play. They are a revolving door of backline slapstick.

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