Western Conference foe FC Dallas visits the Citrus Bowl Saturday night to play their lone game this season against Orlando City. This will be our one and only chance to see the likes of Fabian Castillo this season and, unfortunately, the game will be played without Kaká, who will miss the match due to last week's red card at Real Salt Lake.
Here to help us learn more about our opponents is Brian Wachholz from our sister SB Nation blog, Big D Soccer. Brian was gracious enough to give us the lowdown on Saturday night's opponents from the Lone Star State.
Who are three players from FC Dallas that Orlando City fans should know about?
Brian Wachholz: Victor Ulloa has been the anchor for the midfield. The young homegrown played 44 straight matches back into last season. He was given a rest recently at that Kansas City USOC fiasco. He was back on the field for the start of the home match against the Revs last week, however. Paired with either Kellyn Acosta or Michel, Vic does the heavy lifting, winning duels and keeping the ball moving through the midfield.
Matt Hedges is the team captain at center back and earned his first USMNT cap in February this year. Dallas picked him in the first round of the 2012 SuperDraft. He was thrown into the fire pretty quickly when Ugo Ihemelu went down with a career-ending concussion. Matt quickly learned on the job, paired with George John in his prime for Dallas. Now, Matt has grown into his role, often taking vocal responsibility on the field to organize the defense.
I'm cheating a little bit, naming two players for my last mention, but you probably already know a bit about Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz. The two South Americans have been destroying opposing teams when they are firing on all cylinders. Fabian can dribble at anyone and has been leading the league in that statistic for a few seasons now. Castillo was signed as a long-term project back in 2011, and his game has matured. Mauro, on the other hand, is the deep lying play maker. He hails from Argentina and brings a technical prowess glowing in his feet. He's one of the most talented players in the league, but he suffers for it in fouls and physical containment. If he can stay ahead of the OCSC defenders, then Mauro will add some assists and maybe a goal to his record.
What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?
BW: FC Dallas thrives in a flat sprint counterattack. The team is forced into a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Mauro Diaz as the No. 10, but they can also succeed with a 4-4-2. With Blas Perez and Tesho Akindele out of town with their Gold Cup nations, expect to see a 4-2-3-1 that will try to stretch the field to the chalk, giving our fleet-footed guys like Castillo and Michael Barrios room to run.
What are FC Dallas's strengths and weaknesses so far in 2015?
BW: This team is wildly inconsistent. Just this last week, FCD won 2-0 against the in-state rival, lost 6-2 to a team we've beaten earlier this year, then won 3-0. Dallas was top of the table for a few weeks earlier this season and has maintained above the playoff line all year, but we've imploded completely, losing 4-0 two times now.
Set piece defending appears to be a problem. For years, FC Dallas was known for a staunch defense and strong goalkeeping. Dallas still boasts very strong keepers in Dan Kennedy, Chris Seitz, and up-and-coming homegrown Jesse Gonzalez. However, the team has conceded more set piece goals than expected. Dallas is way down scoring set piece goals as well, compared to last year. A big part of that is the limited minutes Michel has received. He struggles with defensive duties, so it's not worth having him on the field if he isn't making those highlight reel free kicks regularly.
What are the fans' expectations for this year's FCD squad?
BW: We expect FCD to qualify for the playoffs. We expected to make a strong run for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, as ownership likes to boast. However, the lineup we saw last week was less than desired, and the boys couldn't hang with Sporting KC's first team. We will continue to see the homegrown and youth projects develop. Although it is a hindrance to league games, we are proud to have five internationals called up for the Gold Cup. Tesho Akindele (Canada) was Dallas' Rookie of the Year draft pick last season, and Moises Hernandez is a homegrown player from right here in North Texas, now representing Guatemala.
Dallas' strength is its youth. They are fast and creative. The advantage of a young team is that they will try stuff veterans tend not to risk. This leads to goals out of nowhere. It also leads to red cards and hard learning opportunities. We've seen a bit of both in 2015. Those players in particular started with FCD in MLS, so you would hope that something the club is doing right helped them to gain those international roster spots.
What is your predicted starting XI and score prediction?
BW: With no Kaká and no Cyle Larin, I am hoping that Dallas can piece together a team worthy of beating Orlando without their offensive sparks. Dallas has struggled mightily on the road this year, but I believe they can buck the trend this weekend. I am calling 3-0 Dallas; mostly because if it's isn't a strong win, it will be a depressing, multi-goal loss. Dallas doesn't have many close games.
Starting XI: Kennedy, Harris, Hedges, Zimmerman, Loyd, Ulloa, Acosta, Hollingshead, Diaz, Castillo, Texeira
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Big thanks to Brian for helping us get to know more about our new enemies.