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Saturday, October 30, 2010
2010 MLS playoff preview: FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake

By John Carlton

Matchup:

FC Dallas (12-4-14) vs. Real Salt Lake (15-4-11)
Game 1 – Sat. October 30, 2010, Pizza Hut Park Frisco, Texas 5pm ET (Fox Soccer Channel)
Game 2 – Sat. November 6, 2010, Rio Tinto Stadium Sandy, Utah 10pm ET (Fox Soccer Channel)

All-time Series: FC Dallas lead 11-6-1

At Dallas (8 meetings):  FCD 8 wins, 18 GF;  RSL 0 wins, 5 GF
At Salt Lake (10 meetings):  RSL 6 wins, 19 GF; FCD 3 wins, 12 GF

2010 MLS Regular Season Meetings:

7/17 FCD 2, RSL 0 (Shea 69, Harris 76)
10/16 RSL 2, FCD 0 (Grabavoy 59, Morales 90)

Team Leaders:

Real Salt Lake – G: 12 Alvaro Saborio   A: 9 Morales
FC Dallas – G: 11 Cunningham   A: 13 Ferreira

Series Outlook:

This opening round series of the 2010 MLS playoffs features two of the league’s best teams.  FC Dallas set an MLS record with a 19-game unbeaten streak during the regular season, while the defending champions Real Salt Lake went undefeated at home this year.  Dallas enters the post season having lost their last two matches, while Salt Lake are carrying a 14-game unbeaten streak into the playoffs.  During the regular season series, both teams held serve at home with 2-0 victories over the visitors.

Injuries:

FC Dallas still has lingering injury woes that may prevent them from fielding their preferred starting lineup.  Even if players returning from injury are healthy, it remains to be seen if they are fully re-integrated into the team.  Fullback Heath Pearce is listed as questionable with a hamstring strain.  Defender Jackson Goncalves is also questionable with a sore hamstring.  Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman is probable with an MCL sprain.  Expect Pearce and Hartman to play.

Real Salt Lake looks better on the injury front.  Midfielder Will Johnson is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, but should see playing time.  Central defender Jamison Olave and forward Alvaro Saborio are both probable with knee issues.  Both players should start for the Royals.

Tactical Outlook:

Expect FC Dallas to employ their familiar 4-1-4-1 formation with midfielder David Ferreira orchestrating the attack.  Head coach Schellas Hyndman has a decision to make about who to start as the lone forward, but Milton Rodriguez should get the nod.

RSL played a 4-5-1 in their first visit to Pizza Hut Park this year, hoping to disrupt the linking play of Daniel Hernandez and Ferreira in the middle of the park.  This time, Real Salt Lake are most likely to line up in a 4-4-2 formation with Saborio and Fabian Espindola up top.  Head coach Jason Kreis could also opt for Robbie Findley instead of Espindola.  Javier Morales will direct the offense from the cental attacking midfield position for RSL.

Positional Breakdown:

Goalkeepers

FC Dallas – GK Kevin Hartman

Both goalkeepers are finalists for the Goalkeeper of the Year award, but Hartman has been out of action for several matches following a collision with New York forward Thierry Henry.  Finally healthy, Hartman should steady a Dallas defense that has surrendered too many goals of late.  Before the injury, Hartman was being talked about as a league MVP candidate, so his return is absolutely crucial for the Hoops.

Real Salt Lake – GK Nick Rimando

Rimando has been a rock for RSL over the course of the last three seasons.  He communicates very well with his back line and makes the saves he should.  This year, Rimando recorded the second-most shutouts ever by an MLS goalkeeper.  His ability to stop penalty kicks was on full display during last year’s championship run and Rimando would be favored against Hartman if the series came down to PKs.

Advantage:  FC Dallas

Defenders

FC Dallas – D Ugo Ihemelu, D George John, D Jackson Goncalves, D Jair Benitez, D Heath Pearce, D Zach Loyd

FCD only allowed 28 goals in 30 games, good for third-best in the league.  The central defense pairing of Ugo Ihemelu and George John was a fixture for most of the season until both players sustained injuries that kept them off the field for an extended period.  Full backs Jair Benitez and Heath Pearce love to push forward and deliver crosses into the penalty area.  Rookie Zach Loyd can fill in at either fullback or in central defense.  Brazilian defender Jackson can similarly play anywhere in defense.

Real Salt Lake – D Chris Wingert, D Tony Beltran, D Nat Borchers, D Jamison Olave, D Robbie Russell

RSL’s defense this year set a record for fewest goals allowed over the course of a season, 20 goals in 30 games, eclipsing the mark of 23 goals allowed by Houston in 2007.  The partnership in central defense of Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave is perhaps the best in MLS.  Olave is a gifted athlete and Borchers has a keen positional sense.  Kreis can turn to a platoon of good fullbacks with Chris Wingert, Robbie Russell and Tony Beltran who like to get up and down the line.  This group of defenders never allowed more than 2 goals in a game during the season.

Advantage:  Real Salt Lake

Midfielders

FC Dallas – M David Ferreira, M Daniel Hernandez, M Dax McCarty, M Atiba Harris, M Brek Shea, M Eric Avila, M Marvin Chavez, M Eric Alexander

For FC Dallas, everything goes through MVP candidate David Ferreira (8 goals, 13 assists) in the central midfield.  Although Ferreira plays the traditional CAM role, he frequently drifts toward the sidelines to receive the ball.  Ferreira’s vision and passing accuracy combine to create lethal chances when he has time on the ball.  Wingers Atiba Harris and Brek Shea have enjoyed good seasons and are dangerous getting forward.  Defensive midfielder Daniel Hernandez disrupts play in front of the back line, while Dax McCarty links play from the defense to the attack.  Eric Alexander, Marvin Chavez and Eric Avila provide Hyndman with excellent midfield depth.

Real Salt Lake – M Javier Morales, M Will Johnson, M Andy Williams, M Kyle Beckerman, M Ned Grabavoy, M Jean Alexandre

Much like Dallas, Salt Lake relies heavily on its midfield playmaker, Javier Morales (7 goals, 9 assists), to create goal-scoring opportunities.  RSL’s midfield plays a diamond fromation with defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman anchored in front of the defensive line.  Kreis can select from a group of solid wingers in the form of Ned Grabavoy, Will Johnson and Andy Williams.  There isn’t a lot of depth in midfield, but RSL have a really good core group.

Advantage:  FC Dallas

Forwards

FC Dallas – F Jeff Cunningham, F Milton Rodriguez, F Peri Marosevic, F Ruben Luna

The Hoops scored 40 goals in the regular season, fourth-best in MLS.  Jeff Cunningham led the team with 11 goals from the lone forward position.  Milton Rodriguez contributed another 5 goals in only 13 games.  Hyndman will have to decide which forward to start, but the safe bet is Rodriguez with Cunningham as his replacement around the sixty minute mark.  Depth at forward is a problem for FCD with unproven Peri Marosevic and academy graduate Ruben Luna the next best options.

Real Salt Lake – F Robbie Findley, F Alvaro Saborio, F Fabian Espindola, F Pablo Campos, F Paulo Araujo Jr.

RSL led the league in scoring with 45 goals during the regular season.  Alvaro Saborio was a revelation this year scoring 12 goals and assisting on 4 others.  Fabian Espindola scored 6 goals at forward and Robbie Findley added 5 goals.  Without a doubt, the Royals have one of the best strike forces in the league.  Pablo Campos gives Kreis another scoring option from the bench.

Advantage: Real Salt Lake

Series Prediction:

Game 1 – FC Dallas 1, Real Salt Lake 1

The outcome of this 2-leg tie could very well come down to the play of the opposing attacking midfielders, FCD’s David Ferreira and RSL’s Javier Morales.  If Salt Lake can slow down Ferreira, something they weren’t able to do with a five-man midfield in the their first trip to Pizza Hut Park this season, they may get out of Frisco with a draw or even a win.  If Ferreira is allowed to start the attack and distribute the ball freely, it could be a long afternoon for the RSL defense.  FC Dallas should do enough at home to get a goal or two, but Salt Lake has enough firepower to get out of the first game with a draw.

Game 2 – Real Salt Lake 2 (3) defeats FC Dallas 1 (2) aggregate

Real Salt Lake did not lose at home all year and that trend should continue throughout the playoffs.  The Lakers’ combination of the league’s most potent attack and it’s stingiest defense will simply be too much for FC Dallas to overcome.  Schellas Hyndman has done a beautiful job building this Dallas squad, but it is simply unfortunate that a great regular season led to a first-round matchup against the defending champions, the league’s best team.