Following a gutsy come from behind draw away in Toronto last weekend, the Fire head back to Toyota Park Saturday to face a red hot FC Dallas team in the only Brimestone Cup match this season. Last week Dallas defeated RSL 2-1 despite being a man down for a long period and are within touching distance of the Supporters Shield.
Here are a few tactical things to look out for on Saturday night.
Slowing the Dallas counter attack – managing transitions between attack and defense
Despite playing at home against RSL last week, FC Dallas looked particularly dangerous on the counter attack. Striker Blas Perez was very influential in these counters by linking the play and getting the ball to the Dallas wide players who are full of pace. Perez will not be suiting up to face the Fire on Saturday, but Tesho Akindele, a rival to Harry Shipp for the Rookie of the Year crown, is a more than capable replacement.
RSL played like the home team for most of the match and were allowed to pile men forward in the attack only for Dallas to catch them out on numerous occasions by winning the ball and breaking quickly. Dallas only had 34% of the possession, partly due to the counter attack strategy, but also due to the Perez red card, but still managed to pick up all three points.
The Fire have a very disciplined holding midfielder in Matt Watson, but the Men in Red must be careful not to fall into the same trap that RSL did and push too many players forward.
Putting balls into dangerous areas – more of the same from Lovel Palmer and Grant Ward
In the Fire’s match against TFC, Lovel Palmer was a constant threat when he got forward from his right back position and was able to put in crosses. The downside to his forward play was the number of times he was caught too far up the field, but I will discuss this later.
The Fire looked very dangerous when both Quincy Amarikwa and Robert Earnshaw were on the field at the same time. Both players’ movement caused the Toronto defense issues, especially when Palmer was able to put in crosses. The TFC defense was put under even more pressure when Grant Ward came on the field and made a huge impact.
Despite their size, Earnshaw and Amarikwa are a major threat from crosses due to their ability to create a yard of space and get in front of defenders. It was not a coincidence that when Ward and Palmer were able to put quality balls into the box, the Fire were able to capitalize and get goals.
I expect to see more of the same against FC Dallas on Saturday, perhaps with Grant Ward starting ahead of Fire newcomer Sanna Nyassi on the Fire right. Ward playing on the right side and being able to cut inside and cross with his stronger left foot makes him a potentially bigger threat.
With doubts remaining about Mike Magee’s fitness for Saturday, we could see Amarikwa and Earnshaw on the field together for 90 minutes and if players like Ward and Palmer can give them service, the Fire could retain the Brimestone Cup for another season.
Containing Dallas’s Colombian duo: not allowing Escobar and Castillo to get behind the defense
A key reason why Dallas is fighting at the top of the West is the play of both Andres Escobar and Fabian Castillo. Castillo in particular has been a threat all season, chipping in four assists and nine goals to date. Both players are extremely fast and were a major part of the Dallas counter attacks last week against RSL.
Against TFC last weekend, both Gonzalo Segares and Lovel Palmer were left exposed when players were able to get behind them and either put crosses in or take some shots on goal. In the first half, Palmer was caught out on more than one occasion, resulting in a yellow card while Segares was the culprit in the second half.
With this in mind, the Fire outside backs need to be more careful against the Colombian duo on Saturday night. Against TFC, Fire central defenders were dragged out of position to try and deal with the players who got behind the defense and the Fire back four must also keep this in mind and try to keep a good shape against Dallas.
The Texas club like to play with two holding midfielders, which allows Castillo and Escobar to play higher up the field and not concentrate on tracking back as much as a traditional winger would have to.
Both Castillo and Escobar have a target man in Akindele to look for if they do get behind the Fire defense and the Canadian will be looking to add to his seven goals with the help of his Colombian teammates.
Prediction: 2-1 Dallas – despite missing Michel and Perez, the stingy Dallas defense combined with the pace on the counter attack will be too much for the Men in Red.