The playoffs are a different animal. The mentality an individual player or the collective team carries into the big game play a large role. Often times a team’s chemistry is the deciding factor in the big game between two elite sides. On Sunday night at the Home Depot Center both FC Dallas and LA will show similar commitment and mettle, but what are the other intangibles that will pile up to make the difference at the end of the game? These are my key match-ups to look for that will decide the outcome of the Western Conference Final on Sunday night in Carson, California.
David Ferreira v Dema Kovalenko:
The talented FCD playmaker truly drives the attack for the boys in red and white. His ability to find space behind the midfield and in front of a back four wreaks havoc on most MLS defenses. If Ferriera is finding passes in behind Kovalenko and Juninho, he will force decisions for the two center defenders of LA. Ferriera is at his best when he receives a pass and gets turned quickly to face an opponent. His vision is special and it would allow other FCD attackers an opportunity to run in behind the Galaxy backline. The result would set the speed of the FCD attack on a very large HDC playing surface. Ferriera’s durability has remarkable in 2010. Not only has the Colombian played every game this season, but he has only missed one minute while also drawing the most fouls of any player in MLS.
Kovalenko knows his role for the LA Galaxy. He works in tandem with Juninho in center midfield and patrols opponents like a rush hour traffic cop. Kovalenko is a tenacious and fierce competitor. This can sometimes be to the detriment of the Galaxy midfield. If FCD can create good wide play, the space that Kovalenko and Juninho have to occupy in front of the LA center backs becomes much larger. That would produce passing lanes in between the two central midfielders, and Ferriera works his magic in between those lines. Forcing Kovalenko and Juninho to defend from side to side is a key to success for Dallas. If FCD can find a first half goal I would expect Ferriera will have played a part in it. The game would change for LA, and Kovalenko would probably be a sub as the game would have to be pushed forward by the home team. In a match-up of brains vs braun it would be difficult not to give the advantage to MVP candidate David Ferriera.
George John vs Edson Buddle:
The second year right center back for FCD has had a terrific season. Slowed by a hamstring towards season’s end, he overcame the injury to play a huge part in the upset of defending champion Real Salt Lake. At 6’4’ the University of Washington product stood tall in the back and was in the correct position defensively to cut off the service of RSL. He will need to do the same things on Sunday night against the league’s most dangerous man inside the box. During the run of play I would expect John to challenge Edson Buddle on long forward passes as well as the diagonal balls from David Beckham. On set plays off the right foot of Beckham I am sure John will mark either Buddle or 6’4” center back Omar Gonzalez. He will need to show the positional sense and tenacity to clear such services, and particularly in the first half.
Edson Buddle scored 17 goals during the regular season, as well as a goal in each game of the first round playoff series against Seattle. Many of his goals came from his movement inside the penalty area as he looks to dart in front or behind an off-put defender. He certainly has the ability to strike from distance as well. His goal for the United States against Australia in the final tune-up before the beginning of the World Cup, and his stunning turn and volley effort at Qwest Field were brilliant. John cannot allow Buddle time to turn towards the Dallas defense, nor can he allow him movement off the ball. If the midfield is organized enough for FCD to disallow an LA player the time to get his head up to pick out Buddle then the task becomes less challenging.