After New York’s do-or-die victory over the Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Arena on Thursday, we knew the Red Bulls would play in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs but we didn’t know against whom they’d play. That depended on Houston’s match against Los Angeles yesterday. I had predicted that the Galaxy might use that match to build momentum for the playoffs, but smartly, Bruce Arena rested key players and gave youngsters like Jack McBean a run out. McBean actually scored against Houston as the Galaxy’s youngest player in franchise history despite his team losing 3-1. Houston’s victory propelled into second place in the East, pushing Columbus down into a wild card position. That means that New York, as the fourth wild card seed, will travel to face-off against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Wednesday night.
Going into the postseason, FC Dallas has lost 7 of its last 11 games. In that span, the team from Frisco only took 10 points in the final 3 months of the season. By comparison, New York’s 11 games in that time-frame yielded 16 points by virtue of 4 victories and 4 ties. New York took the season series against Dallas by tying at Red Bull Arena and winning at Pizza Hut Park. While FC Dallas seems to have stumbled its way into the playoffs, New York is riding a surge of positive results into Wednesday’s match up.
Interestingly, FC Dallas has failed to get a result only twice when Brek Shea has gotten himself on the score-sheet. Despite only scoring four times since the end of June, Shea is still an engine of Dallas’s attack down the left side. Even more dangerous than his constant play down the wing is what he is capable of doing when the ball is at his foot with space in front of him in the middle of the pitch. You can see what I’m talking about in this goal against Toronto.
Speaking of Toronto, however, FC Dallas will be hurt by their failure to qualify for the knockout stages of the Concafcaf Champions League at the hands of Toronto FC. Despite starting extremely well, seven points from three games (two of them on the road), Dallas began hemorrhaging goals in that competition. In the first three games, they only allowed one goal against. Compare that to ten goals in the final three matches since September 20 and you can get a fuller picture of the decline of FC Dallas. Add to that their elimination in a tough fought U.S. Open Cup match against Seattle at their secondary field at the Starfire Complex on August 30th. In no uncertain terms, the last few months have not been kind to FC Dallas.
That’s not to say that the Red Bulls can take the foot off the pedal. Dallas has a number of potent attacking options besides Brek Shea. Ricardo Villar operates as an effective winger and Daniel Hernandez is always dangerous going forward. Up top, Marvin Chavez has the ability to finish plays but always likes to set up his strike partner, whether that is Ruben Luna, Fabian Castillo or Milton Rodriguez. The back lie for New York will have their hands full and going forward the Red Bulls might find difficulty in beating a defense composed of Ugo Ihemelu, Jair Benitez, George John and Zach Lloyd. Lloyd has been called up to the U.S. National Team camp this season and center back John has been rumored with moves to Blackburn, Everton and Wigan in the English Premier League.
This FC Dallas team is beatable for New York, but it won’t be an easy game. New York hasn’t played an easy game all season (except for the game at home against Toronto) and Hans Backe might just ruin the Red Bulls season yet. The team found success against the Philadelphia Union by improvising the formation. Instead of playing the routine 4-4-2 that Backe loves so much, Dax McCarty held up play and slotted a through ball to Solli making the overlapping run. When Solli joined the rush forward, Marquez pinched right and, with McCarty, covered the gap on the right side of defense. The Red Bulls took a risk but it paid off. Solli didn’t galavant forward on every play, but when he did there was often a dangerous cross into the area. I’m still convinced that this team will find success by playing something other than the orthodox and expected formation. Schellas Hyndman isn’t a dumb manager for FC Dallas and he will drill his team in how to defend the traditional stagnant attack that the Red Bulls have played all season. I hope for Red Bulls Nation that Hans Backe doesn’t just play the same game and expect a different result. We need at least some tactical awareness and adjustment during the game. Please utilize Juan Agudelo in some capacity besides warming up the bench. I still like the idea of Agudelo as an advanced winger with Marquez or McCarty covering his defensive duties in midfield (anything that means Ballouchy doesn’t see the field). We don’t need a miracle to defeat FC Dallas, but we need to play something different from the boring formation and style that led to 16 ties this season.