Key match-ups between FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake: Part One

Bobby Rhine tells you what to watch for in Saturday's second-leg match


Photo Credit: 
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With the first leg of the
Western Conference Semi-Finals between FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake behind us,
I wanted to look at a few key match-ups. In their trip to Pizza Hut Park on
July 17th, RSL changed their tactics. I expect them to run out there usual 4-4-2
formation on Saturday. FC Dallas has played in a 4-1-4-1 shape all year long
and should stay the same against the defending MLS Cup Champion. Within those
formations, roles are specific for the players. Here are four key match-ups you
need to watch closely, because the game could be won or lost within the
following individual battles.

WATCH: Bobby Rhine breaks down leg two of FCD-RSL in Chalk Talk

Daniel Hernandez vs Andy Williams:

The FC Dallas captain has been the club leader both on and off the field from
day one. His role in the center of midfield is clear; sit in front of the FCD
back four and shield the two center defenders. Rarely will you see Hernandez venture wide to defend opposing midfielders, and his communication
will be important in leading his midfield into a good shape defensively.

Can the FCD midfield win the
ball and frequently spring attackers in wide areas to force the RSL midfield to
break out their diamond four shape? If FCD is able to break up RSL attacks in
the center of midfield, the Utahans midfield passing could be disrupted enough
to deny the kind of synchronicity that makes them such a threat going forward.
An added bonus is Hernandez’s composure on the ball when under pressure. He'll
need to receive passes from the FCD backline to break the RSL high press.

The absence of Javier Morales due to his ejection at Pizza Hut Park in Leg 1 is
significant. The man likely to move into the attacking role in the RSL midfield
diamond four is Andy Williams.

The MLS veteran is enjoying
his finest professional season with a career high in starts. He brings a
similar amount of creativity and can play the killer pass in the final third.
Look for attempts to unsettle the FCD defense with good vision, and the courage
to try something unusual. His passing is an asset as much as his ability to pop
up in dangerous areas for chances at goal.

With these two MLS vets
duking it out, you have to wonder who will deliver the final blow.

Kevin Hartman vs Nick Rimando:

These two experienced goalkeepers have been the best in Major League Soccer
this season. With Hartman’s return between the posts, Dallas’ defense got a
boost in confidence in one specific area- communication. Hartman demands an
accountability to the defensives shape in front of him that limits the types of
shots that opponents can take. He has repeatedly been in the right place at the
right time for a reason.

Hartman has always been a
tremendous shot-stopper, but his presence has been the difference for the best
Dallas defense in club history. Warning: his mobility shouldn’t be threatened
by his previous injury, but thanks to Monsieur Henry his ability to strike a
ball while under pressure could.

Rimando was the story for RSL in the 2009 MLS Cup Playoffs. One of the shorter
goalkeepers in MLS stood tall on many occasions to make the big save. His
presence in goal during the MLS Cup Final penalty kicks forced even a Landon
Donovan attempt well off target.

He has a good back four in front of him, and
much like Hartman he is best known for his shot-stopping ability. When FCD
traveled to Rio Tinto on October 16th, Rimando stuffed a Jeff Cunningham
one-on-one to keep the game level. It’s saves like those that turn games on
their head. This may be the best match-up of them all.

READ: Keep
up with FCD on their playoff journey with the Fight For The Cup:
Playoff Blog