Guest columnist Drew Epperley is the founder and editor of WVHooligan.com. His blog covers everything MLS and U.S. Soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @WVHooligan.
The month of August rolls on for FC Dallas (5-11-8, 23 points) as they return home for the only match at FC Dallas Stadium this month (8 p.m. CT on TXA21) to host their rivals from the Rocky Mountains – the Colorado Rapids (8-14-1, 25 points).
The Rapids are coming off their first win in eight games after beating their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Real Salt Lake 1-0 last week in Colorado.
Joseph Nane scored the lone goal for the Rapids in the win. The win over RSL was also the Rapids’ first win against their rivals since May of 2009.
Dallas fans will recall their most recent meeting with the Rapids a few weeks ago that saw the end of FC Dallas’ big winless streak. Goals came from Fabian Castillo and Carlos Rodriguez in the 2-1 win for Schellas Hyndman’s crew.
New formation to the attack
The Rapids have been a tough bunch to figure out all season. One game they can open you up offensively and the next their attacking group is completely silent.
The main focal point of the attack is still Jamaican striker Omar Cummings. The 30-year old leads the Rapids this season with five goals – tied with newcomer Jaime Castrillon.
Colorado manager Oscar Pareja has been juggling his lineups this season and his formation. Earlier on it was a 4-3-3 and more recently Pareja has switched to a 4-5-1 with Cummings playing alone up front.
That move seems to be slowly paying off as Martin Rivero and Brian Mullan man the flanks with Castrillon in the middle with Nane and Jeff Larentowicz sitting just below in a holding midfielder role.
Both Castrillon and Cummings were a big reason why the Rapids won last week against Salt Lake. Castrillon was a gnat in the attacking third of the midfield and probably could have scored two or three goals of his own. Cummings did the dirty work you’d expect him to do as a lone striker by holding the ball and opening up the attack.
Defense finally seeing solid minutes together
Just as they have been in Dallas, injuries have been a big part of the lack of success this season for the Rapids. Pareja has had to deal with injuries at different points to key defenders and a veteran midfielder in Pablo Mastroeni.
Recently his back four have been getting more minutes together and are slowly turning things around.
The center back duo of Marvell Wynne and Tyrone Marshall has started to pay off as both do an excellent job of clogging up the middle of the attack for other teams. Last week against Salt Lake, they both did a good job keeping big scorers like Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio off the scoreboard.
Marshall was subbed out early on in the second half and is listed as probable for Saturday’s game.
Newcomer Luis Zapata continues to start at left back while former FC Dallas defender Drew Moor has moved out to right back.
Moor is actually one of the Rapids’ top scorers this season with three goals.
Goalkeeper Matt Pickens has started every game this season for Pareja. He has 80 saves on the season and five shutouts.
Keys to three points
The recent shift in formation leaves Cummings alone up top – similar to what FC Dallas does with Scott Sealy or Blas Perez.
Pareja still wants the offense to go through Castrillon with plenty of service coming from Mullan and Rivero on the wings. Dallas will want to eliminate the amount of open chances the Rapids get in the attacking third and make the Rapids chase the game.
On the other end of the ball, Dallas will need to make Colorado work in the back. In their last meeting, Dallas did an excellent job of getting Fabian Castillo into the open space. Using the speed on the wings will be key and finding creative ways to get David Ferreira open real estate in the midfield will go a long way in this game.
Dallas will not want a repeat of their last two games that saw them come out flat. The tempo has to be set from the opening whistle in this one or else you’ll see this Colorado team hang around until the very end.