The boys FINALLY return home after the longest road swing in the history of the sport, I think. Every game from here on out is essential for Sporting KC but with FC Dallas coming to town, this game has huge playoff implications, and even Supporters' Shield implications. I got with Brian Wachholz from over at Big D Soccer to discuss this season's 4th meeting between the two sides.
1) The Blue Testament: FC Dallas is in the best position for the Supporters' Shield at the moment (IMO) with games in hand on LA, VAN, and NE. Will they be able to hold off the Galaxy and finish on top?
Brian Wachholz: Unfortunately, the Galaxy are less competition for FC Dallas than the New York Red Bulls, and FCD has no influence on them in the Eastern Conference. The East remains far weaker than the West based on results, and NYRB have the advantage of finishing out 2015 by primarily beating up on their Eastern competitors. It will be cruical for Dallas to finish out there schedule as best that they can, especially paying attention to games against teams also in the running for the Shield, i.e. Vancouver and Los Angeles, but it may not matter if NYRB can remain successful.
According to our buddies over at Sounder At Heart, Dallas has the most difficult remaining schedule in 2015. Conversely, Vancouver has the 3rd easiest schedule, and NYRB and LAG lay somewhere close to the middle. It would be nice to have a balanced schedule where every team plays each other team once home and once away. The reality, though, is that just really isn't feasible in a country as large as ours. So instead the weaker conference will continue to have a slight edge in the Supporters Shield race, and unfortunately for FCD's Shield chances, that conference is the East.
2) TBT: SKC have won the previous two meetings between these teams by scores of 6-2 and 4-0. What does Dallas need to do to get points at Sporting Park?
BW: First of all, I would like to see Fabian Castillo play against Sporting again. Dallas beat SKC at home back at the beginning of the season, in part, due to a goal and an assist from the young Colombian. Fabian then missed both trips to Kansas City. He was injured during one, and he was rested during the other. I wish he hadn't been as we all know the resulting scoreline.
As great as Mauro Diaz can be, this team has learned how to succeed without him. Fabian is ingrained into the system and has earned himself the right to be called FC Dallas' best player.
On the other side of the field, Dallas needs to be more disciplined and organized than the last two trips to KC to not concede another 4-6 goals. Chris Seitz and Dan Kennedy each played one of those blowout losses. That tells me that the defense in front of them has a bit more culpability. Jesse Gonzalez may get another nod after a successful run recently. I would be interested to see how he fairs compared to us two veteran teammates.
3) TBT: Facing each other for the 4th time this season, what is something about this team that people in KC may not be aware of? Interesting factoids? Something funny about a player?
BW: This FC Dallas team is very close. It's like a family. Oscar Pareja worked with many of the homegrown players during his time as Director of the Academy. Many of the players, whether homegrown or not, look up to Oscar as a club legend due to his 17+ year service to the organization. The players and staff barbecue regularly after practices with music and little games. This has become a tradition and has really bridged the gaps between players who come from different countries and cultures. Assistant Coach Josema Bazan is assistant to no one in front of the fire; he is heralded as Head Grillmaster.
In other news, Walker Zimmerman and Ryan Hollingshead are growing their hair out. It started with them coming into preseason a little shaggy and has blossomed into a season-spanning challenge. I believe that I heard their goal is to keep it going through the playoffs and that they aim to donate their hair to charity by the end of it. There are a number of charities that serve cancer patients who've lost their hair during radiation treatment, so that would be a nice gesture. If you go back and look at their draft day photos, you will see that Walker sported a crew cut and Ryan kept his hair relatively short and coiffed. It's been amusing to watch the transition and hear them describe the awkward middle phase in interviews when the hair was too long to be considered short and too short to be long.
1. Big D Soccer: Sporting looked like the team to beat for a good stretch of 2015 but after earning just 1 point in the past five matches, SKC is the team getting beat. What's up with this drop in form during the home stretch?
Cody Bradley: It's been a combination of many things! Injuries, national team call ups and even some very poor refereeing. But yes, the team as a whole was always going to have to come back down to earth a little bit. We knew all along there were holes, opponents had just been unable to capitalize. The back line had all sorts of questions and Melia wasn't going to be able to be a superhero EVERY night in goal. But losing Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar from the midfield is what set it over the edge for me.
The discussion right now is about the old idea of "Sporting Fit". These last two seasons this team has been riddled with injuries and fallen off right around the same time, so the training tactics are being questioned, possibly within the organization. Peter Vermes says he makes no connection between the troubles both seasons, but with so many injuries this club may be changing some things up a bit.
IMO there is too much being made about "Sporting Fit" at the moment. But it's natural to want to blame something. This team still has the talent to beat anybody when it's all working, there have just been so many different things happen as of late. But to hear that the organization isn't going to take any risks and is willing to change, shows yet again why they are top class in MLS.
2. BDS: While I never want to egg on bad sportsmanship, Dallas fans were not disappointed to see Dom Dwyer red carded last weekend. It's since been rescinded for good reason. How much will Vermes lean on him this weekend to repeat his last performance against FCD? How many goals do you predict for the charming Englishman?
CB: It was good to see it rescinded, and also to see Mateos get fined for his embellishment on the play. Especially good, because Dwyer was fined earlier for something along the same lines against Houston.
Dom is basically the only striker on the team. PV, and everyone on the field, lean very heavily on the guy. His work rate in grinding down defenses mentally and physically is a huge part of his value. But over the course of the 5 game winless streak, he has just 1 goal. If SKC are going to pull themselves out of this rut, they will need Dom to score some more goals.
He is the kind of guy that just gets in scoring moods sometimes and won't be stopped. I do think he will be chomping at the bit to face Dallas, and at home again (finally). Mark me down for a brace!
3. BDS: Here in North Texas, off-field issues have dominated FCD news more days than I care to admit recently. What's been the biggest or most controversial off-field story for SKC in 2015?
CB: Well now that you mention it, there really hasn't been much of that. Owner Robb Heineman is VERY outspoken. His Twitter is an absolute must follow. He likes to drop hints and maybe float some controversial idea out there. At the beginning of the season he hinted that long time rumors about 18 year old Erik Palmer-Brown being sold to Juventus were true, but that has yet to happen. And he also got some hopes up when in an interview he hinted at a new player signing, also something that didn't happen. But at this point, most people know to take what he says with a grain of salt.
Keeper Luis Marin was brought in from Chile and highly touted, but couldn't get passed the language barrier and was not playing well. He was benched and then eventually left the team all together. Many unfairly assumed he left because he wasn't playing, but it was due to family issues.
My final answer for biggest one probably has to be the rumors of SKC bringing in its own USL side. It is heavily rumored but the club has not announced anything about it yet. The team would play in Swope Park where Sporting KC training facilities are located, and where FCKC (NWSL) practice and play matches. Most people are hoping for something a little more than SKC II from the name. SKC B has unfortunately also been talked about. But my favorite name by far, although it would never happen, is The Swope Park Rangers.
TBT Projected Lineup and Score..
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Seth Sinovic, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Chance Myers, Soni Mustivar, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, Krisztian Nemeth, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi
Sporting Kansas City 3 - 2 FC Dallas