SEATTLE - MAY 25: Fredy Montero #17 of the Seattle Sounders FC battles Ugo Ihemelu #3 of FC Dallas at Qwest Field on May 25, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. FC Dallas defeated the Sounders 1-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
FC Dallas have been one of the league's premier teams for a few seasons now, but a slow start and mounting injury troubles will have coach Schellas Hyndman searching for answers.
It was a little less than a year ago that FC Dallas came to Seattle and beat a struggling Seattle Sounders team 1-0 thanks to a Brek Shea goal, a stifling defensive performance and a whole heap of poor finishing on the part of their opponents. At that point the Sounders had taken 17 points from 13 games, a rate of 1.30 points-per-match that's only slightly better than the current FC Dallas rate of 1.20. Seattle was still reeling from the season-ending injury to Steve Zakuani one month prior and struggling mightily to score goals. Instead of the pre-season Supporters Shield darkhorse, the Sounders instead looked like a team that would need to battle it out in order to make the playoffs. FC Dallas hadn't set the world on fire to that point in their own right, but in recent weeks the team had begun to gel and looked well prepared to usurp Seattle's role as next-in-line to the LA Galaxy's throne.
That loss was among the most frustrating of last season; it was at that time seen as a real test of Seattle's mettle, the Sounders looking to build momentum on the back of a dramatic last-second win over Sporting Kansas City four days prior. Initially, it appeared as though they'd failed that test. But in retrospect, the evidence of what was to come the rest of the way was evident; the Sounders dominated large portions of that game. Seattle managed 19 shots and over 65% of the possession, dominated the midfield and attempted nearly twice as many passes as FC Dallas with a far higher rate of completion. Only the final product was missing, but Seattle filled in the missing ingredient soon after and went on a tremendous almost immediately.
Point being, FC Dallas is having a great deal of trouble at the moment, but unless you believe their injury struggles will persist at the same level and that Schellas Hyndman is incapable of making adjustments there's no reason to think that they won't be able to turn things around. There simply haven't been enough games played to be able to make a definitive statement about FC Dallas' actual talent level or capacity to make a run at the MLS Cup. But what we do know is that, to this point, they've struggled mightily so far this season and there's little reason to expect things to turn around this evening. Through the combination of injuries and suspensions, Dallas will be missing David Ferreira, Ricardo Villar, Andrew Wiedeman, Carlos Rodriguez, Bobby Warsaw, Ugo Ihemulu, Daniel Hernandez and Blas Perez. Brek Shea will likely play, but he's been battling turf toe for several weeks and will likely be at a level below his usual best.
This is an opponent that's far, far below full strength and it's arguable that the FC Dallas team that takes the field tonight will be even more relatively weak than the LA Galaxy team the Sounders dominated a week ago. Crucially, they've also been weakened in every area of the pitch, making it much harder to weather the storm through tactical changes alone. Through sheer good fortune, what at one point looked as though it would be a very difficult game in the midst of a punishing schedule now looks eminently winnable. Even the weather appears to be cooperating; the forecast at gametime calls for clear skies, low humidity and a pleasant 77 degrees, a far cry from the sweltering heat that's been Seattle undoing at times in the past. And though FC Dallas do have a winning record at home, they've been far from dominant and whatever advantage is there is almost certainly offset by the players they'll be missing.
On the face of things, this looks like three points for the taking. The Sounders are playing on short rest (though Dallas will be playing on even shorter rest) and the trip to Dallas is a notoriously grueling one, but with several key players rested on Saturday the impact is likely to be less severe than might be expected. Reputation and full-strength ability aside, the level of talent the home side put on the pitch this evening will likely be similar to what Seattle saw from Philadelphia on Saturday, and the Sounders should be beating teams of that level with relative ease. The "relative" is especially important in this case, as MLS' reputation for upsets and parity is well deserved, but Seattle failing to earn a result against such a hamstrung team would be a pretty major disappointment.