Scouting report: A breakdown of what to expect from Saturday's opponent FC Dallas
We've talked at length on philadelphiaunion.com about the quality of FC Dallas, but truthfully the Union is catching Schellas Hyndman's club during an opportune time.
Dallas hasn't won in league play since May 25.
They've scrapped their way through a tough schedule, drawing with Colorado and Kansas City and losing a close contest in Portland on June 15th.
Additionally, they were knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup earlier this week in a return match with the Timbers at FC Dallas Stadium.
Still, they remain a top team, sitting in third place in the Western Conference with 29 points and a record of 8-3-5. Dallas' points-per-game rating of 1.81 is second-best in the league.
Philadelphia has yet to beat Dallas since joining Major League Soccer in 2010. In five total meetings, the Union is just 0-2-3 all-time against their Western Conference foe.
Credit Dallas for having one of the more balanced attacks in the league. Panama international striker Blas Perez leads the team with five goals, but no other player has more than three. Eleven different players have scored for Dallas this season.
Perez might be the statistical leader, and he scored against the Union in last year's 1-1 draw, but Kenny Cooper is probably the guy to look out for. As a Red Bull, Cooper scored 5 goals in 3 games against Philadelphia last year. The 28-year-old was traded by New York in the offseason and has three goals so far in his second stint with Dallas.
Eric Hassli was another offseason acquisition. Similar to Cooper and Perez, he's a bigger guy with good finishing qualities. He's a bit down in the pecking order, appearing 11 times this season, but only starting in three of those games.
Maybe the strongest part of this Dallas team is a deep group of versatile midfielders. A lot of these guys can play all sorts of different roles, so we're going to lump them together.
CM/LB hybrid Michel is making a case for MLS newcomer of the year. The 32-year-old Brazilian has a wicked left foot, proving to be one of the league's best dead ball strikers in 2013. He's served up four assists and really gives this Dallas team a set piece threat that might not have been there in years past.
Jackson is having a great year playing in a wide midfield role. Now in his fourth year with the club, he's bagged three goals this year, added three assists, and currently leads the team with 36 shots.
Fabian Castillo has two goals and an assist and also plays wide when Cooper is not the lineup. He's a guy who's given the Union trouble before, scoring a goal and adding an assist in Dallas' 2-0 win back in 2011. Small and fast, he'll be matched up against Sheanon Williams and Amobi Okugo on the right side of Philadelphia's defense.
Of course you can't forget 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira. He's finally battled through some significant injuries and looks more like the Ferreira who led Dallas deep into the playoffs a few years back. Whether Dallas goes 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, you can always count on Ferreira sitting behind the strikers and looking for that killer pass to open up the opposition's backline.
The defensive midfield is sort of a rotating door for Dallas. Former Union man Andrew Jacobson is the surest bet in that position. If Hyndman goes 4-2-3-1, look for the aforementioned Michel, or natural center back Je-Vaughn Watson to come in next to Jacobson.
On the backline, the first choice central pairing is veteran George John and second-year man Matt Hedges. Rookies London Woodberry and Walker Zimmerman are third and fourth choice left back.
Right back Zac Loyd has played every minute of every game this year.
On the left side, you're likely to see Jair Benitez. In cases where the midfield is shuffled, Michel has been used at left back.
Last but not least: Raul Fernandez. The new Dallas goalkeeper has started all but two games this season (former Union GK Chris Seitz is the backup). Fernandez plays in a sprawling, unorthodox manner, but it's been effective so far. He has a knack for making spectacular saves and keeping his team in the game.
Possible Starting XI: Fernandez (GK), Loyd, John, Hedges, Benitez, Michel, Jacobson, Ferreira, Cooper, Jackson, Perez (4-2-3-1)
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org