The Blue Testament asks Big D Soccer...
1) After making the MLS Cup playoffs last year, what are fans expecting from Oscar Pareja in his second year?
Expectations are high. Not only did FC Dallas make the playoffs, but they drew even with the Sounders and were only eliminated on away goals. There's a significant segment of the FCD faithful that thinks we should have had that series. With much of the core team staying intact through the offseason and some buzz-worthy reinforcements, the fanbase is expecting to build on last year's success.
The gigantic, elephant in the room, caveat for any FC Dallas outlook this season is, "if they can stay healthy." FCD was ravaged by injury to crucial players in 2014 (and 2013 and 2012). The Front Office was not entirely deaf to this need, however. They hired new fitness coach Fabian Bazan. Early reports from the players indicate he has already made an incredible impact. I also heard during preseason that trainers were focusing on hamstring health, which is good to hear. If injuries were trading cards last year, I could have filled a binder with midweek scratches due to hamstring trouble. Binders full of ouchy hammies.
2) The midfield used against San Jose used a lot of speed and pressure to defeat the Earthquakes. Is that the same type of midfield you expect to see against Sporting KC?
Yes definitely. I think what we saw on Saturday is close to the best 11 for this team right now. Super Mauro was working hard from box to box, while Victor Ulloa quietly cleaned up any messes and pushed the ball forward. Castillo is aiming to out-perform his accomplishments last year, as is Akindele. What we have is a motivated and cohesive group, with youthful legs sprinting toward success. FC Dallas is the 3rd youngest team in MLS, although that might have gone up a bit after re-signing 31-year-old JeVaughn Watson this week.
It will be interesting to see how the Dallas midfield clashes with Feilhaber and Espinoza. Both of them are familiar with the Latin flair that FCD is built up around. Also, the SKC midfield pairing has enough experience to possibly squash youthful mistakes that would otherwise be made up with speed. I really want to pin the crux of this match on a midfield battle, but I know that Blas Perez, Tesho, Castillo, Dwyer, Zusi, and Anor are going to stretch both sides of the field. I hope we will see a full 90 minute war... touchline to touchline.
3) What's the biggest worry about FC Dallas going into 2015? A weak spot that needs to be shored up?
Injuries to key players and thin positions. Specifically, Mauro Diaz and centerback.
Super Mauro showed last year how vital he is to the offensive engine of this team. His combines so well with offensive players, and honestly, FCD doesn't have a one-for-one replacement if he can't compete every week. Losing Diaz means a whole transformation of how Pareja approaches each opponent. Lucky for us, that Plan B was figured out last year during the winless strech of summer. The risk is mitigated somewhat with that knowledge in the back of my mind.
The centerback stable is woefully shallow, and I really hope it doesn't bite FCD mid-season. Matt Hedges is far and away one of the better CBs in the league, and Zach Loyd brings experience and understanding to create a solid pair. Sitting way way back at slot #3, 21-year-old Walker Zimmerman has a whopping 1182 minutes of MLS play under his belt in 2 seasons. He has done sufficiently well when called upon, but I think Walker needs additional seasoning before he can be expected to consistently perform at the same levels as Loyd and Hedges. After Zim, things start getting a little murky, and Oscar will need to get creative to find replacement CBs.
Big D Soccer asks The Blue Testament...
1) Peter Vermes is one of the more tenured coaches in MLS nowadays. Do you think that makes his strategy too predictable? What has changed, if anything, about the SKC philosophy to keep things competitive?
I think that with enough changing personnel it helps in creating a bit of an unpredictable lineup but I do acknowledge that knowing the high-pressured 4-3-3 is going to be the tactic makes it easier to prepare for. This year, it looks like Vermes is fitting the tactics more around the players rather than finding the players to plug into the system. This year, at least based off the preseason and the opening match, Vermes seems to be running a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1 hybrid with Roger Espinoza and Benny Feilhaber sitting back, Krisztian Nemeth playing center mid but occasionally sliding up as a second striker next to Dwyer flanked by Graham Zusi and Bernardo Anor on the wings.
Now, whether that formation sticks throughout the season remains to be seen but without a true defensive midfielder, this makes the most sense and it's a bit refreshing to see.
2) It's been a while since Sporting was without Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler. With Collin traded and Besler suspended, how does Vermes adjust the defense to keep FCD at bay?
Ike Opara is going to be the definite starter and the other center back, replacing Besler, is either going to be Erik Palmer-Brown or Jalil Anibaba. It looked like Palmer-Brown was going to come on to replace him against New York but ended up not coming on until later in the match. The fact that Vermes brought him in over Anibaba, who was also on the bench, says to me that he's the next man up (or next boy? 17-year-old players are confusing) in the depth chart.
As for if they'll do anything in regards to the tactical formation, I doubt it. There were a couple of instances last year and in 2013 where both Besler and Collin were missing and Sporting filled in their spots with the next players up on the depth chart. I don't think they'll play Espinoza or Feilhaber any deeper and the only true defensive midfielder they have on the roster, Soni Mustivar, hasn't been practicing with the team for very long. I doubt they throw him into a starting role, so I think we'll see a similar lineup to the NYRB game, but with Palmer-Brown taking Besler's place.
3) There was a lot of player movement during this very uncertain offseason, and some of it goes under the radar. Does SKC have any surprises waiting on the bench that could impact the game against FC Dallas? Who?
The biggest candidate for a surprise would be Marcel de Jong. The former Bundesliga left back trialed with Sporting KC in the preseason and earned a contract, although he also earned a lot of minutes with the "first team" in the final few preseason matches. He has a ton of experience in top leagues, good defensive process and decent coverage down the flank as a wingback. There's been a lot of speculation as to whether him or Seth Sinovic would get the starting role at left back this season. Sinovic got the start against NYRB but I would not be surprised to see de Jong get some minutes, whether that means he forces Sinovic over to right back, he goes to right back himself or if Sinovic goes to the bench.
It's still up in the air whether we will see him this weekend or not, but I'm going to go with yes we will see him in the Starting XI.
Find the views from the other side at Big D Soccer.