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 mission is simple on Saturday for FC Dallas (8-12-9, 33 points) – beat the Vancouver Whitecaps (10-11-7, 37 points) - and the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs are still a big reality this season.
A loss, however, won’t spell the end of the 2012 season – but it could damage the chances of reaching the playoffs in a big way.
Vancouver is coming into Saturday’s game losers of their last four matches including a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas last month.
Dallas rode goals from Fabian Castillo and Jonathan Top with two assists from David Ferreira to beat the Whitecaps at BC Place. Vancouver had one a previous meeting with Dallas earlier in the year 1-0.
Offensively dried up
Martin Rennie’s squad has gone cold over their last four games – with only one goal in that span coming from Designated Player Kenny Miller’s boot.
Rennie still has a slew of offensive firepower that can heat up on a moments notice. Rookie of the Year candidate Darren Mattocks leads the Canadian outfit with seven goals this season.
Behind Mattocks is Brazilian striker Camilo who has four goals and five assists on the season. The offense lives and dies with Camilio. For that reason, if Dallas shuts him down in the midfield, then they stand a good chance of coming away with three points in this one.
Rennie is also hoping to get more out of Miller who only has one goal to his name after seven games with the Whitecaps. The Scottish international was expected to carry the load in the attack after Rennie traded away Eric Hassli and Sebastien Le Toux earlier this season.
Another Designated Player will be expected to set up the attack in the midfield for Rennie. Barry Robson has done well in his short stint with the Whitecaps but he hasn’t really been able to fully figure out how to handle MLS defenses and MLS referees. Robson has two goals to his account but also has two big red cards as well, showing that his temper can sometimes get the best of him.
One player that will cause fits on the wings for Dallas could be Jamaican international Dane Richards. The speedy winger has two goals with the Whitecaps since coming over from New York in a trade earlier this summer.
Defense could carry Caps
The one area that Rennie has had plenty of success in his first season with Vancouver is with his defense.
Centrally captain Jay DeMerit is a key cog in the lineup. DeMerit and Martin Bonjour have partnered well in the defense this season but the depth behind them is very thin, as Rennie has found out in a couple of the last games where DeMerit has been hurt.
Fullbacks Lee Young-Pyo and Alain Rochat will likely have the tall task of going up against the speed from FC Dallas. Young-Pyo has been one of the best additions to any MLS club this season and he even can get forward into the attack as he currently has one goal and four assists on the season.
In front of the back four in Rennie’s 4-2-3-1 formation will be Jun Marques Davidson and either Matt Watson or Gershon Koffie.
Keeper Joe Cannon has been a steady rock this season in goal for the Whitecaps. His eight shutouts are good for fourth best in MLS this season.
Keys to gaining three points
This game is simply about three points for Dallas. Vancouver will likely be gunning for the “road draw” and won’t be pushing as much offensively unless they can catch Dallas on a quick counter with Mattocks or Richards.
Dallas has to play a simple and effective game to beat the Whitecaps. Spreading out Vancouver and making them chase the game from the start will go a long way in being able to get quality chances on goal.
Vancouver is very stingy down the middle of the of the field and will be wanting to be rough on players like Ferreira and Castillo. Dallas has to keep a level head in this game and not commit any costly fouls that could result in red cards.
Finally, Dallas has to make the most of their chances in this one. Vancouver will bunker back in this one if they see this go on as a draw for long stretches of the game, so making the most of chances around the penalty box will be huge in getting three points.