Scouting Report: FC Dallas gunning for Supporter's Shield
After leaving points on the field in a 1-1 home draw with the Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union get another shot at a Texas team on Saturday.
FC Dallas enters PPL Park with the second best record in Major League Soccer. Schellas Hyndman's club is 12-6-6, and their 42 points are second only to the Galaxy's 48.
Dallas and LA went head to head in a battle for Western Conference supremacy last week. Hyndman's side got on the board first at the Home Depot Center, but the Galaxy got the best of Dallas, coming from behind to dispatch FCD 3-1.
The May 14 trip to Dallas was a frustrating affair for Philadelphia. The Union controlled the first 25 minutes of the game, but couldn't convert several good looks on goal. Dallas went on to shut out Philadelphia 2-0 on goals from Brek Shea and Fabian Castillo.
The Union have not beaten Dallas in three tries since joining MLS in 2010. Last year's home match against Dallas played out to a 1-1 draw at Lincoln Financial Field with Danny Mwanga netting his first career goal in the 93rd minute. This will be the first time that the Union have hosted Dallas at PPL Park.
Dallas are coming off an extremely busy stretch, having played seven matches in the last four weeks.
During that span, Dallas dispatched Real Salt Lake in the U.S. Open Cup. They went 3-2-2 in league play, and also competed in qualifiers for the CONCACAF Champions League. FCD beat El Salvador's Alianza FC 2-0 on aggregate to claim a spot in the group stages of the competition. Dallas became the first MLS team to post shutouts in their first two CCL games.
Hyndman's side got a much needed week off to rest up before making the trip to Philadelphia. Dallas' depth was tested during that busy stretch, but after a full week off it's likely we'll see a more typical lineup this time around.
In that 3-1 loss to LA, new acquisition Maicon Santos made his debut for Dallas. Hyndman was in a need of a true striker and decided to send Eric Avila to Toronto to get the 27-year-old Brazilian. Santos started at the top of a 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing Marvin Chavez and Shea to play more natural roles on the right and left sides of the midfield, respectively.
Chavez and Shea have been excellent for Dallas this year. Shea leads the team with nine goals, fourth in the league. The MLS All-Star selection signed a contract extension to stay in Frisco, and was also called up to Jurgen Klinmann's first USMNT squad. Shea came in as a second half sub against Mexico on Wednesday and played an exceptional game. His darting run in the 77th minute set up an easy tap in for Robbie Rogers, securing a 1-1 draw at Lincoln Financial Field.
Shea has really matured into a complete player this season, and he's still only 21 years old. He's got a freakish combination of speed, height, and skill on the ball that you just don't see very often in Major League Soccer.
One of the issues that Schellas Hyndman had to tackle was finding the best position for Shea on the field. He's played as a forward and he even was used as a fullback and central defender at times. He can do all of those things, but he really seems to be at his best on the left wing. Playing as a winger gives him space to run at the defense while also enabling him to function like a second striker at times, playing off the forwards and making delayed runs into the danger area.
Chavez has five goals and four assists and has started in all 24 games this year. The speedy winger has been used out of position this year, most notably as a lone striker. The arrival of Santos means that the 5-5 Chavez can be used in his natural role on the right flank. The Honduran has incredible speed and can hit the ball from distance as well. His first half blast against LA was up against Veljko Paunovic's strike in Chicago for AT&T Goal of the Week.
If Dallas plays in a 4-2-3-1 shape, the attacking midfield role is more of a question. Dallas is still without 2010 MVP David Ferreira, who continues to rehab a broken ankle.
Hyndman used Ricardo Villar in the CAM role against the Galaxy. Eric Avila was able to play that role, but Dallas obviously felt as though they were comfortable with their midfield depth when they made the trade with Toronto.
A new addition to the squad is Daniel Cruz, who signed with Dallas just last week. The 30-year-old Colombian joined from Belgian side Germinal Beerschot, where he made more than 150 appearances over a nine year period. Cruz could get his first start in the central midfield on Saturday.
Designated Player Fabian Castillo will not be available on Saturday. The young Colombian was called up by his country for the U-20 World Cup.
19-year-old Ruben Luna is the most likely attacking prospect off the bench. The Mexican has 12 appearances this year, ten as a substitute.
Pencil in Daniel Hernandez as a holding midfielder. The 35-year-old captain is the surest bet on this Dallas side. You wouldn't think of Hernandez as a player who gives you much going forward, nor is that his role, but he actually has four assists this year, which is tied for second on the team with Chavez.
If Hyndman uses two holding midfielders, you'll either see Eric Alexander or Bruno Guarda. Alexander has been used in a variety of roles this year and has really plugged the gaps left by injuries and other situations. Guarda has mostly been used off the bench, but he did get the start against LA.
Former Union midfielder Andrew Jacobson leads the team with five assists, but he's been battling a knee injury and is listed as questionable for Saturday's matchup.
MLS followers should be familiar with the formidable central back pairing of George John and Ugo Ihemelu. Each has played 23 of 24 games this year, and each has also contributed two goals and an assist. They had an uncharacteristically poor game in LA and will be looking to put in a better effort on Saturday.
Zach Loyd has settled into the right back spot and is one of the better fullbacks in the league. The 24-year-old was also called up by Klinsmann, but didn't get into the game against Mexico.
Look for either Jair Benitez or Jackson on the other side of the defense. Benitez is a more typical left back, while Jackson is very good going forward and is used just as effectively as a midfielder.
Kevin Hartman has started all 24 games in goal for Dallas. He isn't repeating the incredible year that he had in 2010, but he's still been very good this season, facing 89 shots and turning away 61. With the help of his backline, he's only conceding an average of exactly one goal per game. Only three other keepers, including Faryd Mondragon, have a better goals against average in MLS.