The Columbus Crew welcome FC Dallas to Columbus Crew Stadium for a return to MLS action after both teams have enjoyed some time off for the World Cup group stage break.
Although neither team has played since early June, both teams took part in the fourth and fifth rounds of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Crew beat NASL side Indy Eleven 2-1 in overtime before falling to the Chicago Fire 4-2 in overtime on Wednesday.
Dallas defeated the NASL's San Antonio Scorpions 2-0 at home before being taken to overtime by in-state rivals Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo took FCD to overtime, but Dallas eventually prevailed 3-2.
Brian Wachholz of SB Nation's Big D Soccer and I traded questions before the two teams meet on the pitch on Saturday.
Questions for Big D Soccer
Massive Report: This is the second year in a row that FC Dallas have had a hot start and then dropped off. Is it something in the water in North Texas or is there another explanation? Is there any correlation between this year and last year?
Big D Soccer: The dip in form may look similar, but it is a completely different situation from last season. The issues impacting the team last year could be attributed to tactics, fatigue, injury, and lack of depth. The drop in form this year is due almost solely to discipline and injuries. The injury bug hit FC Dallas like a ton of bricks. George John still hasn't sniffed the field. There have been long term recovery periods assigned to Mauro Diaz, Kellyn Acosta, and Hendry Thomas. Matt Hedges, Michel, and Andres Escobar have all dealt with hamstring or back problems. In addition to that, the players have been bringing added punishment on themselves through a lack of discipline. So far this season, the boys have earned themselves 8 red cards, a club record ... and we're only halfway through the league campaign. The Disciplinary Committee has been waving is naughty stick at FCD, adding further time to some of those suspensions. Most recently, we've been told that the MLS DC will announce a 4 game suspension to Fabian Castillo for his verbal assault at the assistant referee in the game against Portland. The reasons are different; Oscar Pareja is doing the best he can with what he has left on the bench. However, the fans are feeling the pain just the same.
MR: After a midweek clash in Houston with the Dynamo in the Open Cup on Tuesday, how fresh do you expect Dallas in another road match on Saturday?
BDS: That U.S. Open Cup went for 120 minutes in the humid, hot Houston night. I expect a few of our players to be rested against the Crew. Especially with the next round coming up next week; I think FCD should prioritize the knockout tournament over an Eastern Conference foe in league play.
Lucky for FCD, we have a few players coming back from injury. Matt Hedges and Michel are expected to be traveling with the team and ready for action. Mauro Diaz is getting close, although we won't likely see him in Columbus this weekend. So while some players from the Houston clash may be rested, there will be some first string legs fresh and ready to compete.
MR: Blas Perez, Fabian Castillo, and Mauro Diaz all appear atop the Dallas stats sheets for both goals and assists. It seems things are rather balanced in the attack for the team. What have they done to accomplish this balance and keep all the attackers happy?
BDS: Teamwork has been the key to Dallas' success. Most of the players in the midfield and forward stable have been together for a little while now. No one is shy to lay off a through ball for a teammate. At the same time, forwards such as Castillo are generally making the right decision on the field when a little bit of individual brilliance can put a ball in the back of the net. Our midfield is strong with players that like to get forward out wide. This is something that FCD was lacking after Brek Shea was sold and Marvin Chavez was traded.
FC Dallas is getting solid contributions from homegrown players and rookies like Tesho Akindele. These young guys are seeing a lot of minutes and are providing a big boost to the offensive machine. I can't wait to see what the second half of the season has in store for us.
Questions for Massive Report
Big D Soccer: Similar to Dallas, Columbus started the season with a hot streak but cooled soon after. The Crew registered just one win. What derailed this team? Were they punching above their weight?
Massive Report: I would say it's a combination of a couple of things. The fast start was indicative of a new style and opponents not expecting it or knowing how to combat it at first. Gregg Berhalter brought a possession-based style to Columbus that changed the way the Crew played. It took advantage of players such as Federico Higuain and Wil Trapp and teams weren't reacting initially. Toronto FC came into Crew Stadium after the 3-0 start and got an early goal and played compact. Since then, many teams have used this tactic.
This also coincided with some changes in the lineup and a severe scoring drought. Things were looking up right before the World Cup break, as the team began scoring. It will be interesting to see how they play once they are healthy and have their Costa Rican players back from the Cup.
BDS: Hunt Sports Group sold off Kansas City in 2006, and after a few years, the new ownership transformed the club completely. It's been almost a year since HSG announced it had sold the Crew to Anthony Precourt. It's still going to take time, but has the new ownership made any significant changes or hints at improvements coming to the Ohio club?
MR: First, I think it would be difficult to replicate the success Sporting has had since the ownership takeover, off the field especially. With that said, I believe Precourt would like to do something similar. Kansas City rebranded from the Wizards to who they are today and opened a new stadium. Precourt has already announced a rebrand planned for this offseason and has made upgrades to the Columbus Crew Stadium, including a new HD scoreboard, new locker rooms, improved sign advertisement, etc. He has even discussed a possible new stadium down the road, which is something that will likely have to happen due to the hastiness with which HSG built Crew Stadium.
At the beginning of the season, the players couldn't stop talking discussing the differences between this year and last, and much of that had to do with the new ownership. That talk has obviously cooled off some as the season has progressed, but the players are appreciative of what Precourt is doing and I think the club is in good hands.
BDS: Who is a player that could really cause trouble for an FC Dallas team that's still on the mend, that North Texas fans may not be familiar with?
MR: It honestly depends on the lineup Berhalter runs out. If Higuain is still out for Saturday's game, Ben Speas could have an impact. Since the Crew's number 10 has been hurt, Speas has filled in behind the forward and been successful. He distributes the ball well and plays dangerous set pieces. He is also a player who can score himself, so he may be someone to watch.
If Higuain does play, I'd keep an eye out for Bernardo Anor. This year, Anor has played on both flanks and at left back in the absence of Waylon Francis, who is with Costa Rica. Anor is a creative player, but also dangerous in the air. He has scored a few nice goals this year and has been a bright spot whenever he is on the field.