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Sporting KC vs FC Dallas: Three Questions with Big D Soccer

I spoke with Brian Wachholz of Big D Soccer ahead of Sporting KC's match against FC Dallas on Friday night at Sporting Park. KC will look for retribution for the 3-1 loss they suffered in Dallas earlier this season.

Nemeth against two Dallas defenders. With all the injuries, Friday night may be much of the same.
Nemeth against two Dallas defenders. With all the injuries, Friday night may be much of the same.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

We ask them....

1. FC Dallas sits atop the Western Conference with 21 points and their leading 18 goals have been shared throughout a solid attacking core. 5 different players have at least 2 goals. Has this team exceeded your expectations and can they keep this up through December?

Yes, I believe they can keep it up, and I think that's the scariest thing any opposing team can hear right now. FCD has been decimated by injuries and missed playing time during the past couple of seasons. Oscar Pareja had to learn quickly last year how to adapt this team when his star playmaker was in rehab. So this year, things are a bit different. FCD hired a new fitness coach during the winter - players are being rationed for the season. We've already seen some players like Mauro Diaz and Blas Perez miss a couple of games while healthy to help prolong their seasons. The result you see is this statistic sharing. Oscar is building a true team, there is no one player that will have to do it all.

The Hunt Sports Group disappointed some fans with a survey question that went out to Season Ticket Holders that strongly suggested no Beckham-style DP will be signed. Rather, the mantra is to grow a team up out of the youth ranks and cost-effective foreign acquisitions. As of right now in 2015, that plan seems to be working. This is the expectation that ownership put forth, and right now it is meeting those goals of fielding a successful, balanced team.

2. Even more attacking power is coming with the recent signing of Panamanian Ronaldo Escobar. How exactly does he fit into the team? Who gets bumped? And will he be in the 18 come Friday?

He might be in the 18 against SKC. Reports are saying that he is coming into the locker room match fit and ready to rock. FCD's technical director, Fernando Clavijo, has high hopes of a solid second half contribution from his this year. To answer the other part of your question, he isn't replacing anyone. FCD was only using 25 roster spots. The team needs depth on a couple of key positions - midfield wing and central defense. The roster is going to be ravaged by international call-ups this summer: losing JeVaughn Watson, Blas Perez, Kyle Bekker, Kellyn Acosta, Jesse Gonzalez, ... maybe Tesho Akindele and a couple of others to international tournaments. I expect we will see at least one more signing of an out of contract player and maybe another one or two during the transfer window. FCD, true to nature, was very conservative during CBA negotiations, freezing all transfer activity until the new rules were agreed upon.

3. The Sporting KC lineup should be depleted once again, are there any absences for Dallas or should they be at full strength?

Four players are officially missing: Stephen Keel (foot), Danny Garcia (loaned to USL), Kellyn Acosta (intl duty), and Jesse Gonzalez (intl duty). However, that doesn't mean other players won't be unavailable. Fabian Castillo might be out according to a report by Steve Hunt for the Dallas Morning News yesterday. FCD likes to play the injury list game, they tend to think that including or not including someone on the public list will gain the team an advantage so it's hard to know. Zach Loyd is back off of the injury list and expected to play. Other than that, I haven't heard of any other new knocks except to the GK coach during practice Wednesday. And as explained above, even with a couple of absences, FCD is still at "full strength." Oscar has been crafting his stable of true substitutes who can perform as well as the starting eleven when called upon, so the team will be ready even if there are a couple of hidden scratches.

Predictions...

FCD will be on the hunt to bounce back from a disappointing loss last weekend. I think FCD goes into overdrive and wins at Sporting Park. FC Dallas 3-2 Sporting KC

Kennedy, Hernandez, Loyd, Hedges, Watson, Ulloa, Michel, Hollingshead, Akindele, Diaz, Perez

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They ask us...

1. How important is Benny Feilhaber to this Sporting team? He already has 7 assists this year, leading the league and his own personal record (he is 1 away from breaking his all time high of 7 assists, in 2011).

Benny is everything. Even if Sporting were at full strength these last two seasons and didn't get ravaged by injuries and national team call ups, he still would have been the most important. But they did, and Benny has held everything together. The dude legitimately had to play at centerback for a few minutes earlier this season! He has figured out a way to be effective anywhere Vermes needed him. He is at his best getting forward, but was forced into a defensive/holding midfield role so he just killed them will the long ball. But it looks like the club have two guys to fit in behind him in the midfield in Espinoza (Carrasco when he's hurt) and now Soni Mustivar. Feilhaber has been given more freedom to roam. With less of a worry about tracking back (emphasis on less), he pops up everywhere in the attack. Be that in the box with clever dinks, or he also likes to get outside the wingers allowing Nemeth to float inside.

And the set pieces.... oh my. Corners, free kicks long and short, PK's, it doesn't matter. They are all beautiful. Of course perhaps most important is off the field in his veteran presence and comic relief among the team. Benny is everything. If Sporting KC can continue to play well then he will be in the MVP conversation.

Also, one of my favorite things about the guy and can't go without noting.... Benny Feilhaber can politic with the best of them! Watching him work on a referee for 90 minutes is hilarious.

2. FCD has been struggling at the gate with bad weather and worse marketing, but SKC, a relatively nearby market in a similar weather zone, has 6 sell-outs this year. What is it about Sporting Park or the club that drives people to the game?

For whatever reason, there has always been a lot of soccer people in KC. That may not have shown when the club was playing in giant Arrowhead Stadium or in the minor league ballpark, but this ownership group has just done basically everything right since the re-brand. They really made an effort to include fans at every turn. For instance, even part of the stadium design was influenced by listening to the wishes of the Cauldron. The club has just done a great job of knowing who their fans are and branding around that. Although the biggest thing is of course that the team started winning the minute it moved into the stadium. They are still rolling on some of the success of MLS Cup in 13'. SKC is sort of the cool and trendy thing in KC. There is still a wait list for season tickets!

That being said, some of those sellouts can be taken with a grain of salt. Like I said, there is a wait list for season tickets so all of those tickets to the games are sold, but those people are not necessarily showing up every game. The attendance is of course better than most and something to be proud of, but it is definitely not that each game every seat is full and people are in standing room only. It does seem like maybe there have been a few more empty seats this year.

3. Peter Vermes has developed an identifiable style of play for SKC over the years. Which of his tools or strategies do you think he will deploy to contain Blas, Fabian, Mauro, and the rest of the FCD offensive force this time?

Vermes will not be able to do exactly what he wants to do, that is for sure. That identifiable style of play was largely dependent upon all the quality in defense. He had a back line that was the best in the league and then Uri Rosell to sit in front of them at holding mid. Things are much different right now. Matt Besler is the only real starter on the back line, surrounded by backups. Mustivar has looked like he is capable of playing that holding mid slot but is still settling in. Against Dallas, Espinoza is most likely out meaning that Vermes will go with two holding midfielders again by playing Carrasco. This will be basically the same lineup that held the Sounders scoreless in Seattle, so there is reason to trust the defense.

Being an away game, Sporting sat back much more. But Vermes often makes a point to talk about how they try to play entertaining soccer, and they will be in the comfort of Sporting Park against FC Dallas. So despite the injury woes and backups, don't expect Sporting to park to the bus. It will be hard to keep the ball on the attacking end however, without Dwyer's hold up play. Vermes will give more defensive responsibilities to Feilhaber and carefully choose when to push his team forward.

Predictions...

A moment of brilliance from Feilhaber and Zusi will give Sporting the lead, but Dallas will jump on a bad mistake on defense for the draw. Sporting KC 1-1 FC Dallas

Melia, Anibaba, Ellis, Besler, Dia, Mustivar, Carrasco, Feilhaber, Medranda, Nemeth, Zusi