FC Dallas is the underdog against the LA Galaxy, a strong Supporters Shield winner, in this Western Final. Yes, it's a tough matchup, on the road, against the top team in MLS. But it's not impossible.
So just how exactly can FCD beat the Galaxy?
Score more goals.
OK sorry, bad joke. In all seriousness, here are five keys for FCD to win the game.
1. No LA set-play success.
FC Dallas has not given up a lot of set-piece goals this season, but that doesn't change the fact that LA is particularly dangerous on set plays. Defending corners and free kicks is, however, only half the battle. It's equally important not to give up corners and free kicks. That means keeping the dumb fouls in check, particularly the ones right outside the box. Don't give the Galaxy free chances to run their dangerous offense.
Playing smart and in control will go a long way to benefit FCD. Don't let your emotions cloud your judgment about when and where to foul. This is David Beckham we are talking about, one of the best crossers in the world. With Edson Buddle and Omar Gonzalez looking to knock balls on goal with their head LA is dangerous.
2. Free the man.
David Ferreira won the NASR Player of the Year award for good reason (MLS MVP has not yet been announced), he's THE key cog to FCD's success. LA will be looking to stop him anyway they can. MLS teams have double- and even triple-teamed Ferreira in transition to try and stop him. RSL certainly did and Ferreira still made the play to free up Eric Avila for the goal that essentially won the opening series.
LA will use quick early fouls to try and stop the FCD flow and transition fastbreak deep in the FCD end. This will put a lot of importance on FCD passing out of the back, something they aren't great at, as FCD will need to spring Ferreira in space early. When Ferreira has the ball at his feet running at the back line, defenses go to pieces, space opens up and good things happen for Dallas.
3. Keep the numbers right.
LA Galaxy has a similar mentality to FCD. They defend with their box eight and look to counter. LA loves to catch teams napping or over extending themselves and then break with a man advantage. The Galaxy kills you when you give them the extra man. Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee and Edson Buddle can all really punish teams moving forward on the break.
If Dallas over extends themselves and gets caught forward they could be in trouble, cause the Galaxy punish mistakes. Dallas must get forward, but do so with discipline and not over reach. This is where the captain Daniel Hernandez is such a calm influence. He needs to direct defensive coverage and make up for the man who is forward. Midfield defensive transition rotation with their extra midfielder is huge in this one. Hernandez and Dax McCarty have a big burden to get side to side when a wide mid is out of position.
4. Pressure outside.
Dallas has speed on the wings in Marvin Chavez, Atiba Harris, and Brek Shea; not to mention outside backs Jair Benitez and Jackson (who I expect to start at right back). Marvin Chavez has gotten the call of late in midfield and I thought Shea was quite good against RSL in leg two with Harris suspended, so it will be interesting to see who coach Schellas Hyndman picks. Given point #1 of this article, Hyndman may be tempted to go with Harris and Shea for height.
Whichever pair it is, Dallas will have the advantage of speed outside. Breaking outside mids penetrating next to Jeff Cunningham and playing off David Ferreira is the hallmark to the FCD offense. Dallas creates havoc and space in the opposition back line by these wide runs. Without that penetration Dallas will be cooked.
Dallas also needs to put pressure on the LA back line and wide mids for a defensive reason. If they can keep LA sitting deeper it will limit the terrific service Edson Buddle gets. Crosses into Buddle is vital key part of the Galaxy offense. The wide Dallas backs and mids need to constrict space on the flanks and limit crosses or FCD will be in trouble.
5. Carpe Diem
LA is a tough, physical, intimidating defensive team. They gave up the second fewest goals in MLS this year behind RSL, but they do make mistakes. There will be a couple turnovers and a mental breakdown or two by the LA back line. They will give up a few chances.
The problem for FCD is that Cunningham, the lone FCD striker with Milton Rodriguez still hurt, is a player that usually needs multiple chances to score. If that's the case in this game FCD won't find much success because LA, for the most part, is a good lock down team with Donovan Ricketts giving up few second chances.
When the chance comes, it must be exploited. Rodriguez, the more pure goal poacher, would be a much better choice for FCD, but it's not looking like he's going to be back this season. FCD's hand if forced, they have to go with Cunningham. Can the mercurial striker deliver? That may be the biggest key to this game.
It may sound simple, score when you get a chance, but in the high pressure of a Conference Final that is easier said than done. The crowd should be a good one, the atmosphere intense, the pressure on. This is new territory for FCD, although they have the same amount of cup winners are LA in this game. FCD needs to remain calm, forget how big the occasion is.
Grab the chance when it comes and FCD could be on to MLS Cup.