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 Labor Day weekend is here. Major League Soccer is heading into the final stretch of the season with the final two months of regular season play. FC Dallas (8-12-18, 32 points) has six games left on the schedule as they hope to reach the post-season for the third straight time.
Standing in their way this Sunday at FC Dallas Stadium (6 p.m. on FSSW Plus) is Seattle Sounders FC (12-6-7, 43 points). Sigi Schmid’s club is currently tied for second place in the Western Conference with Real Salt Lake and are just seven points back of conference and league leaders San Jose.
The two clubs last met earlier this season in Frisco in a game that ended in favor of the visitors from the Pacific Northwest. The Sounders won the game 2-0 thanks to goals two goals from Fredy Montero.
Seattle is coming off one of their biggest offensive outbursts of 2012 – they beat Chivas USA in Los Angeles 6-2 last weekend, with a hat trick coming from Montero.
Offense finding their mojo
Montero scored a hat trick last week against Chivas and the Colombian striker also assisted on one other goal. Montero and former FC Dallas striker Eddie Johnson have been paired up top with one another for the last few games in league play.
The Montero-Johnson duo have combine for 22 goals and seven assists so far in 2012 – making them one of the best attacking combos in MLS.
The two will be fed passes left and right from Designated Players Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert.
Rosales currently leads the Sounders with 13 assists this season – which is also best in MLS this season.
The newcomer, Tiffert, has also figured in nicely to the attack for Schmid since joining the club last month. In three starts he has one assist.
Brad Evans is also a contributing factor in the midfield. His two goals and three assists on the season may not stand out in the stat sheet but he is a tireless worker in the midfield.
One thing to keep in mind is that Seattle is traveling to Dallas after their CONCACAF Champions League match Thursday night in Trinidad and Tobago. The Sounders could choose or be forced to rest a few key players in their line up.
Other options that Schmid has are guys like Alex Caskey (1 goal, 4 assists, 12 starts) in the midfield. Schmid could also turn to Steve Zakuani. The former number one overall SuperDraft pick has only played in two regular season games so far this year, both in a subbing role.
Strikers Sammy Ochoa and Cordell Cato are also a solid option in the attack for the Sounders if Schmid elects to hold off starting Montero or Johnson. Ochoa has one goal so far this season.
Defense still strong
Osvaldo Alonso continues to be the man in the defensive part of the midfield that keeps the Sounders moving from defense to offense. The All-Star defensive midfielder is a force in the center of the park. Dallas fans can expect him to be stuck on David Ferreira for the majority of Sunday’s game.
Behind Alonso is a gritty back four with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Jeff Parke in the center defensive roles. Schmid also has solid depth in this area as he can turn to Patrick Ianni.
Unlike most coaches in MLS, Schmid has options at his two full back positions. Leo Gonzalez has started lately at left back but he has also split time this season with Zach Scott and Marc Burch. Swedish international Adam Johansson should be the starter at right back.
Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning has started the last five games for the Sounders since coming back from injury. Schmid did have a reliable group of backup keepers behind the Austrian in the form of Bryan Meredith and Josh Ford.
Keys to three points
After last week’s loss to the LA Galaxy, Schellas Hyndman and the club need to approach the last six games as a set of playoff games. Win and you continue on, lose and your chances of a title are dashed away.
Treating this game with a major sense of urgency will be vital, but so will putting a ton of pressure on a potentially tired team early on too. Dallas needs to take advantage of some tired legs and make the Sounders chase the game as much as possible.
Offensively, Dallas need to spread the Sounders out and force Alonso to go from one end of the field to the other as much as possible to wear him out early. Dallas needs to find ways to get the ball wide and work it into Blas Perez in the penalty box.
On the other end of the field, Dallas needs to remain smart. Mental lapses against a quality attacking team like Seattle will not go unpunished. Just as they did a week ago in LA against the Galaxy, Seattle is also a team that will pounce on mistakes in the back and they will capitalize on them.
This game really is a do-or-die kind of game for FC Dallas. If they set the tempo early, the playoffs will be within reach.