Dallas Soccer: Pablo Mastroeni

Five quick hits heading into Colorado game

May, 5, 2012
5/05/12
10:16
AM CT
We’re just over 24 hours from FC Dallas hosting the Colorado Rapids on Sunday night in Frisco, so here are five quick hits on the game.

1) Will we see the Kevin Hartman of old? -- Hartman has looked pretty solid this week in training. However, FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman said that while El Gato told him he felt good, he wanted to hear him say he felt great. To his credit, Chris Seitz has done well in Hartman’s place. This could be the game when Big Kev returns, but is he back to his old self?

2) How will James Marcellin figure into this thing? -- With Bobby Warshaw having foot surgery on Friday and going on the six-game injured reserve, Dallas added Haitian midfielder James Marcellin, most recently of the Portland Timbers, on Friday. But how much can we expect to see Marcellin? He will most likely come off the bench for FCD and his signing was done mainly to give the club some cover in the middle of the park.

3) Brek Shea: Go or no-go? -- Even while battling turf toe, Shea has scored in three of the last four games. But this week in training, it was clear the Bryan native was ailing a bit. Hyndman said he would be wearing orthopedic insoles to help his condition, but Shea sat out training on Friday as a precaution. With three games in seven days, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him sit this Sunday’s match so he is ready for Wednesday’s visit from Seattle Sounders FC. Or vice versa.

4) Who will control the central midfield? -- The Rapids might currently be without Dallas' longtime nemesis Pablo Mastroeni, but Oscar Pareja’s club still has plenty to contend with in the central midfield. Newcomer Martin Rivero currently leads the Rapids with three assists and we’ve all seen how deadly Jeff Larentowicz can be on set pieces. Colorado is also pretty stacked at forward with the likes of mainstay Omar Cummings plus talented newcomers Tony Cascio and Kamani Hill.

5) Will we see a bounce-back performance from Jair Benitez? -- Last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Los Angeles was definitely a low point for Jair Benitez in his nearly two years with FCD. Many have been calling for Hyndman to bench him, but considering Hernan Pertuz has been coming off the bench the last few games, that appears unlikely. So, with Benitez most likely back in the first 11 at left back, hopefully he shows well for himself against the Rapids, especially since atoning for that abysmal performance against the reigning champs should be foremost in his mind right now.

MLS Cup 2010: End of the beautiful game

November, 22, 2010
11/22/10
9:18
AM CT
Winning the MLS Cup from two of the softest, most unappealing goals is indicative of the manner in which Colorado won and indicative of the manner Dallas lost.

FC Dallas, a team known for playing positive attacking-style soccer, was reduced to the same impatient, over-the-top physical play that the Colorado Rapids have survived on all season long. They also were simply better at it than Dallas. It wasn't five minutes into the match that the fouling had begun, by both sides, and the hope that either side would play possession or any kind of attractive soccer was out floating around in Lake Erie. Rapids coach, Gary Smith admitted as much after the match and was correct that his team's ability to adjust to that style of play was the reason the Cup will be in Commerce City for 2011.

Colorado's Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni were at their brutal best. The destructive pair quickly found out that referee Baldomero Toledo was more than willing to allow play to continue and only blow the whistle when absolutely necessary. With that invitation, the Colorado duo simply killed Dallas' attack by assaulting it to death. The result was that as Dallas found it impossible to play its game, FCD was reduced to booting the ball long -- and that is not something Hyndman's team is any good at.

Without getting the ball to his feet and back to goal, Atiba Harris cannot hold up play and allow the attack to develop. Instead, Harris was reduced to trying to fight off Moor and Wynne, who are both more aggressive and better at fighting for possession.

Dallas knew what it was up against Sunday night. Both of the previous matches against Colorado were sorry affairs. Dallas just can't find an answer for an opponent that brings out the bludgeon, especially vs. the Rapids, which can generally match them for speed.

David Ferreira was commonly found way out wide, hiding from the man marking which left Dax McCarty the victim of Larentowicz and Mastroeni's loving attention. Exacerbating the issue was the knee problems of FCD captain Daniel Hernandez. Most fans know his knee hurts, but the extent of his injury was largely unnoticeable until Sunday night.

Hernandez's knee is "hanging on by a thread," as reported by some that know him personally. Unable to move freely, he was unable to do what he does best -- collect and distribute. And with Casey and Cummings smartly falling back and pressing Dallas defenders -- preventing them from getting the ball to the static Hernandez -- the long-ball bootfest was in effect.

Dallas had its chances, especially late when Colorado was forced to stop pressuring and simply sit back. Dallas went into atypical panic mode and lost its patience. Gary Smith's side was almost begging Dallas to tie the match and send it to PKs, but Dallas instead lost composure and repeatedly tried to only cross the ball into the area and hope a Keystone Kops moment resulted in a second goal.

Instead, most balls were booted well away, and the few real opportunities were either saved (John's low blast), body blocked (Dax's repeated volley's from the top of the box) or woefully choked (Ugo's moonshot and Cunningham's brutal ... ah, don't get me started).

In the end, Dallas just could not overcome what the game has been demoted to. In the press box, there was a palpable disgust over how the match had transpired and a lot of eye rolling that the Rapids were galavanting around the stadium with the Cup. Not that Colorado hadn't won fair and square, just that the manner in which they were able to make their playoff run as the #7 seed was another indicator that MLS has a long way to go before the rest of the soccer world gives the league any real respect.

Smith was honest about how his team had achieved its championship: "It was always going to be tough [for the Rapids] if the game was too open, with guys like David Ferreira, who just have the run of the game. We limited a very talented group of players to next to nothing. I'm not sure it was the greatest viewing for fans, because it was such a cut-and-thrust game."

Fair points. But, gosh, does Don Garber and North American Soccer fans really want their champions to be that type of soccer team?

As a result, FC Dallas now joins the Dallas Stars, Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers as DFW area teams since 2000 that have all participated in their respective championship and lost. Not that it will make fans feel any better, but Hyndman's troops had a fabulous season and much to be proud of.

Until MLS either changes the way they officiate their matches, or Schellas finds an answer to negative soccer, Dallas will likely struggle to find their turn on the podium.

Cup preview: FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
12:18
AM CT
Matchup: FC Dallas (12-4-14) vs. Colorado Rapids (12-8-10)

Gametime – Sun. November 21, 2010, BMO Field, Toronto, Canada 7pm ET (ESPN)

All-time Postseason Series: Colorado Rapids lead 5-2-2

2010 MLS Regular Season Meetings:

7/31 COL 1, FCD 1 (Ballouchy 26), (Baudet 22)
10/9 FCD 2, COL 2 (Rodriguez 27, Ferreira 37), (Larentowicz 13, 51)

Team Leaders:

Colorado Rapids – G: 14 Cummings A: 8 J. Smith
FC Dallas – G: 11 Cunningham A: 13 Ferreira

Match Outlook:

The MLS Cup Final nobody expected to see will be a dandy. FC Dallas is the favorite for the odds makers, but Colorado have everything they need to pull off the upset. During the regular season the teams met twice and played to a draw both times. The last eleven meetings between these teams are level, with four wins to each team. Colorado has knocked Dallas out of the playoffs in their last two appearances in 2005 and 2006.

Injuries:

FCD: The Hoops are hoping and praying to have the services of right back Heath Pearce and forward Milton Rodriguez for the final. Both are listed as questionable for Sunday. Pearce hasn’t featured during the playoffs, but Jackson has been adequate in his stead.

COL: Jamie Smith, the team’s assists leader, is listed as probable, as is goalkeeper Matt Pickens with a groin strain. Nothing to see here.

Tactical Outlook:

FCD: A 4-1-4-1 formation with midfielder David Ferreira coordinating the attack. Head coach Schellas Hyndman will hope to have the services of Milton Rodriguez up top and Heath Pearce at right back. However, it seems increasingly likely that Atiba Harris will get the start as the lone striker. The key will be, as always, whether or not Ferreira can find the ball and have time to distribute. If Larentowizc and Mastroeni can’t track Ferreira out to the sidelines, they’re going to lose the midfield battle. Ferreira doesn’t care how far he has to run to receive the ball and Pablo Mastroeni may find himself tiring in the late stages of the match if he chases Ferreira wide.

COL: Gary Smith has employed a number of formations during the season from a 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1 to the more traditional 4-4-2. The safe bet is a 4-4-2 with Conor Casey and Omar Cummings up top. Cummings is the danger man, a rare combination of speed and strength and an opportunistic goal-scorer. He’s the reason the Rapids are in the final.

Positional Breakdown:

Goalkeepers

FC Dallas – Kevin Hartman

Hartman’s saves in the first 20 minutes of the conference final against the Galaxy were nothing short of spectacular. He kept the Hoops in the game and the team responded by putting up three tallies. This man was robbed of the Goalkeeper of the Year award.

Colorado Rapids – Matt Pickens

Pickens is a solid, unheralded keeper. He’s not going to make silly mistakes during the match, but he’s not going to beat Hartman if it comes down to a shootout, either.

Advantage: FC Dallas

Defenders

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

Heath Pearce is an option at right back for the first time in a while. If he’s healthy, Hyndman has to put him in the lineup. The more encouraging development for Dallas is that the central defense pairing of George John and Ugo Ihemelu is back to midseason form.

Colorado Rapids – Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Julien Baudet, Kosuke Kimura, Danny Earls, Scott Palguta, Anthony Wallace

Drew Moor quietly enjoyed a great season in central defense for the Rapids, and while Moor isn’t the best athlete, he reads the game superbly. Marvell Wynne has resurrected his flagging career in Colorado and is now an integral part of defense. Kosuke Kimura has really blossomed in his fourth season with the Rapids. All in all a mature group that has enough to contain the Dallas attack, as they proved during the regular year.

Advantage: FC Dallas

Midfielders

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

With everyone healthy in midfield,. Hyndman has the luxury of picking his ideal lineup. If Atiba Harris plays up top, expect Marvin Chavez to start again on the right flank. Left winger Brek Shea will look to cut inside and draw the attention of the Colorado defense. Everything hinges on whether Ferreira can find the ball with time and space to creat opportunities to score. Hyndman can call on good midfield depth if needed in the late stages of the match.

Colorado Rapids – Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz, Brian Mullan, Macoumba Kandji, Jamie Smith, Wells Thompson, Cladio Lopez

Colorado’s midfield can’t afford to get too stretched trying to attack as the first responsibility will be containing Ferreira. If Mastroeni or Larentowicz can disrupt the Dallas passing lanes, they will need to be able to spring the attack quickly. Brian Mullan and Jamie Smith need to take advantage of every opportunity to cross the ball into the box.

Advantage: FC Dallas

Forwards

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

Though not listed as a forward, Atiba Harris will probably start as the lone striker for FC Dallas. That leaves Rodriguez, Cunningham and Luna as possible subs. Hyndman could bring Rodriguez on for Chavez late first half and move Harris to right midfield. If FC Dallas are down in the second half, Hyndman could also opt for two forwards with Cunningham and Rodriguez or the youngster Ruben Luna.

Colorado Rapids – Conor Casey, Omar Cummings

It’s no exaggeration to call this forward tandem the best in the league. Conor Casey is a big, menacing target forward and Omar Cummings is a sleek prowler with scary straight-line speed. What the two forwards lack is consistent service, something they will need if the Rapids want to lift the Cup. Kandji could come on late if Casey is tiring.

Advantage: Colorado Rapids

Match Prediction:

FC Dallas 2 – Colorado Rapids 1

FC Dallas are the favorites because they have taken down, in convincing fashion, the defending MLS champions (Real Salt Lake) and this year’s Supporter’s Shield winner (Los Angeles Galaxy). The Rapids actually match up quite well with FC Dallas with their tough, experienced central midfield pairing of Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz. David Ferreira hasn’t seen this kind of test so far in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the league MVP devises ways to get free of defenders. And in the end, FC Dallas will win the Cup because of Ferreira. When his teammates get on the field, they will look over at the diminutive Colombian and know they can’t lose. The Rapids are a fine team, and hats off to them, but FC Dallas is the best team in the league and will prove it on Sunday night.

Second opinion: could it be a great final?

November, 20, 2010
11/20/10
9:22
AM CT
Like many sports, title games in soccer never seem to be as climactic as the games leading up to them. Whether it's the pressure of not wanting to give the other team a chance to win or the players just feeling the pressure of the situation, finals seem to to be played extremely close to the vest.

I remember our 1997 US Open Cup Final like it was yesterday. (I guess I have to, since everything I read says Dallas has not won a major soccer championship since the Dallas Tornado.)

I am very proud of that title. At the time DC was the heavy favorite and nobody had beaten them for a final of any kind. We had thought we were in line for the double and when Colorado somehow upset us in the Conference Championship the Open Cup took on even more importance for us.

The '97 Open Cup was played in Indianapolis in front of a sold out crowd in a fairly small stadium by today's standards. Still, the atmosphere was electric. Our team was extremely loose, almost to the point of over confidence. Only a few players seemed to be feeling the pressure and it was surprising who they were.

Alain Sutter for one didn't seem to respond well to pressure in those days and had sat out three quarters of the Colorado upset. It was curious that in this final he also acted as if he didn't want to be there and was extremely reserved, but given the Colorado series that might have been my imagination working on me.

Other players like Gerell Elliott and Zarco Rodriguez seemed like they were ready to get on with it, as if they had a date with destiny. It's amazing how when you hit the real pressure what you learn about players. Some do not respond to those situations well, even when they are the best players for an entire season. That added bit of pressure seems to transform them. You can read it in your opponent as well.

I had never lost a final as a coach, all though I have lost enough trying to get there. I had been in four finals as a professional coach before the Open Cup and that being my fifth I felt very confident. Of course it would have been nice to make even more finals in MLS. I still consider myself lucky in those situations and a good reader of what it takes to win it.

We came into the Open Cup a very hot team, even having lost the Conference Championship. We had something to prove and we wanted to prove it against the best, which was clearly DC at that time. DC had won back to back MLS Cups and the previous Open Cup.

I can remember talking to Bruce Arena before the game, along with Cacho Cordoba, my long time friend and assistant. Bruce has always been a very confident guy when you talk to him. Some people get the wrong impression of that, feeling he's arrogant, but I always found it motivational, even understandable, and his sarcasm humorous.

This time however, when we were finished talking, Cacho mentioned to me that Bruce acted extremely unusual. He was humble to the point that we walked away thinking he didn't have a very good feeling about his team that day. It was very un-Bruce like. I told Cacho I had the same impression and although we can't be sure if it was true, we wondered if he had gotten a bad read about his teams mentality coming into the game. The point being that the pressure of the final often allows you to tell right away, from the locker room to the warm up, exactly how the game is going to go for your team.

I have watched thousands of games and in normal games your team can have a terrible warm-up and come out and play the complete opposite. A final, and I mean the final game, is like no other. Players appear to wear their attitudes on their sleeve as all their work comes to fruition. Some embrace it, some accept it, and some run from it, but the finality of the situation seems to put it out in the open.

This final seems to have the potential to be a great one. Yet missing is a team with experience. What we have is two teams coming into the game with equal footing, so to speak, with both teams beating favored opponents to get here.

Colorado may have had the easier path, similar to Real Salt Lake last year, but the Rapids still had to beat two teams that had been better than them the entire season. They did it with two outstanding front runners who really have found a connection and a midfield of buzz saws mowing down opponents attacking options and proving quality service.

Pablo Mastroeni has been outstanding to say the least and his efforts against San Jose showed a maturity that he has lacked in MLS over the years. Not just a hammer but a precise technician creating a link between the backs and the forwards while diffusing forays from the opponents quickly before they ever became any kind of a threat.

Their much maligned back four seems to be hitting full stride at just the right moment. Marvell Wynne's move to the middle and the emergence of Kosuke Kimura on the outside have not only made this team better defensively in front of Matt Pickens, but have given them much better balance. In a excellent piece of coaching by Gary Smith, he used Wynn's speed to balance Drew Moore's intelligence and has added better attacking options than Wynne on the flanks where Wynne's service and feet were always questionable.

Did I forget to mention the flanks in the midfield? While a much more direct, get the ball wade, and quality service in the mixer team, they do what they do well and have two guys in Jamie Smith and Brian Mullan who will be a hand full for Dallas. They know how to get behind you and get quality service in, or get on the end of things on the weak side.

They also have two forwards in Omar Cummings and Conor Casey who have great balance, allowing them to stretch an opponent as well as play off them, and both have a knack for getting on the end of balls in the box.

There are some hidden wild cards I need to mention in Anthony Wallace and the locally popular Drew Moore being dumped from his home town team for questionable reasons. Both should have extra motivation toward the man who dumped them. I don't think it will be enough but you know it has to be in the back of their heads and I expect them to be flying.

FC Dallas, on the other hand, takes a back seat to nobody. This team is a true team that has played with character the entire season and one that went through the two best teams in the league to get here.

The prevailing opinion from much of the soccer experts through the season had been that they had done it with smoke and mirrors because of all the ties, but those ties are very deceptive. The beauty is in the fact that where they're good they are extremely good and force you to deal with their strengths rather than allow you to expose their weaknesses. And if you somehow exposed them they found a way to get a point. They just refused to lose.

In attack, they kind of put it in your face to say "you can't stop this" with the confidence of their leader. They have guys that can score up top but haven't been consistent, but they don't care. They just find a way to get it done.

In the midfield, they throw a plethora of players at you second to none. They can hit you from any position and are seven deep in a five man midfield. Ferreira steals the show and his runs are so difficult because you must not only have a midfielder who can keep the play in front of him but must also have pace to handle the diagonal runs in behind the midfield.

Brek Shea has weaknesses defensively but it's hard to expose them when he is allowed to attack with reckless abandon, putting so much pressure on you to defend while he is trying to get behind you. If he is having an off night you have Marvin Chavez who can do the same but might be even better at coming inside, combining and creating a scoring chance. If that is not working there is the workmanlike play of Atiba Harris. He is long, lanky, strong, can get behind you, and is great at coming in on the weak side on service.

It sounds like a lot, but the balance might be even more impressive and that comes from Dax McCarty and Daniel Hernandez. Hernandez is not able to cover the ground he used to and is content to sit in there and anchor the first line of defense. He bridges the gap to the defender and keeps them from being left on an island like the Dallas team of last couple years.

McCarty is the perfect tweener. He does the pesky defensive work of a defender, resembling a gnat you can't seem to wave off, especially when Jair Benitez or any of the flank players make those endless runs into attack. And yet McCarty has the excellent ability to connect passes and connect the defense to the attack.

If you need a little extra late in the game we haven't even mentioned the super sub Eric Avila who knows his role and is very good a it.

This is a back four that takes risks and can get exposed on the flanks, which leads us to maybe the most important part of the match up. The two center backs are very sold and have speed to go with aggression. When they do make mistakes occasionally on the ball they have a goalkeeper who is on fire, playing the best of his career.

I would argue that the LA Galaxy game, as well as the Salt Lake game, if not for the play of Kevin Hartman the result would have, or at least could have, ended very differently. It was key saves by Hartman when the opponents were in control and applying a lot of pressure that kept Dallas in the match and allowed them to turn the pressure the other way.

So we come down to two and when you put these two team together the match ups are intriguing. In the attack they are two very different teams and they both seem to play well into the others weaknesses.

Colorado is good on the flanks where Dallas likes to send people forward often leaving space wide behind their backs. Dallas has a multi-pronged attack, can score by committee, and has attacking midfielder that can force Colorado's recovery to look like the dogs chasing the rabbit at the dog track. This could be a wide open game, end to end, with both teams creating a multitude of chances.

Alas that is only my hope as it is a final. Games like this can be hampered by the aforementioned pressure. What makes a high score less likely is both keepers are playing well..... but Hartman? Come on? He is ridiculously good right now and has the chance to add to his four MLS Cup memories and stick it to the people who said he was done.

I don't think there is any question Dallas has been the stronger team and has the most weapons, but that doesn't always matter in a final. It is a battle of wills.

This truly has the chance to be a great final if both teams decide to come and play the way they got here. If that happens it favors Dallas, who I have to pick to win and get the coach with "great soccer knowledge" that which has eluded him in the past. I believe Dallas has the horses and will have it's first MLS Cup.

Just don't call it the first championship! Just the first one with the FC Dallas name. No one will be more proud than the coach who started the Burn from scratch.

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