FC Dallas kicks off the final month of the regular season this weekend as they visit Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
This is the first trip to Sandy, Utah since last August, when Dallas surprised RSL to the tune of a 2-1 victory thanks to some late heroics from David Ferreira.
The two clubs have met twice already this season, with each team scoring a victory. Dallas won the first match back in March 2-0, thanks to goals from Fabian Castillo and Jackson. Jason Kreis and RSL responded in their return trip to Frisco in July with a 3-0 win that snapped a long FCD home unbeaten run.
RSL is coming off a tough loss in the midweek to D.C. United in the 2013 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final. The Claret-and-Cobalt controlled the game outshooting D.C. 19-6, but they were unable to get anything by the United defense on the night.
Kreis’ club is currently tied for the lead in the Western Conference with Seattle at 51 points. They have lost two out of their last three league games.
Injuries are still a big concern for depth reasons in Utah. Defenders Rich Balchan, Chris Schuler, and Kwame Watson-Siriboe are all out with long-term injuries.
Forward Alvaro Saborio is the big question mark with a calf strain. He did, however, play in the Open Cup final on Tuesday.
WATCH: Seitz and FCD shutout RSL in March
Javier Morales vs Erick – The Brazilian defensive midfielder struggled last weekend against Columbus’s attack lead by Federico Higuain. His task this weekend won’t be any easier with Morales leading the RSL charge. Erick will have to find ways to keep the RSL leader off the ball and limit his ability to spread out the attack.
Matt Hedges vs Joao Plata – Hedges has had an up and down few weeks for Dallas, giving up an own-goal in Colorado before a masterful performance against New York and then part of a defense that struggled against Columbus. RSL will likely go at speed against Hedges with Plata. The crafty forward has the speed to cause Hedges issues.
Key Player for Salt Lake
Kyle Beckerman – While Morales is the key to their attack, Beckerman is arguably the heart and soul of this club. The defensive midfielder does all of the dirty work in the midfield to close down the other team’s attack. His ability to cover the field is impressive as well.
Kries typically uses a diamond 4-4-2 midfield. The big question will be whether or not he makes any big changes following the Open Cup final.
Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando; RB: Tony Beltran, CB: Nat Borchers, Carlos Salcedo, LB: Chris Wingert; RM: Ned Grabavoy; DM: Kyle Beckerman; AM: Javier Morales; LM: Luis Gil; FW: Alvaro Saborio, Joao Plata
Keys to three points
Dallas has yet to play RSL at full strength this season. Both previous meetings, key players like Rimando, Beckerman or Saborio were missing due to international call-ups. Adding those three players to the lineup gives RSL a big shot of leadership that may have been missing in the previous meetings against Dallas.
RSL remains to be one of the best possession-oriented clubs in the league. They create lots of chances and get production from everyone on the field.
Dallas will need to win the midfield battle in this one, as RSL loves to control what happens in the middle third of the field. Limiting what Morales is able to do on the ball is crucial as well; his passes tend to carve up opposing defenses.
Defensively, Dallas will need to be better as RSL does a good job attacking with pace up front with the likes of Robbie Findley or Plata. Slowing down the fast attackers won’t be easy but this defensive group has done it before this season. A lot will come down to how Erick and Andrew Jacobson play in front of them. If those two maintain the possession in the midfield and find ways not to turn the ball over, it will keep the RSL attack at bay.
There is no other way to put it, but this game is a must-win for Schellas Hyndman and the club. They aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet but with games running out on the schedule, three points are an absolute must this weekend in Utah.