Ahead of Wednesday night's game, I swapped questions with Daniel Robertson of SB Nation's FC Dallas blog, Big D Soccer, where you can of course check out the Dallas view of this game. After the jump he answers my questions on David Ferreira, Blas Perez and just which unheralded Dallas player we should be looking out for, and I answer his questions on why things have improved, Eric Avila and Danny Koevermans. So, Dallas, How you doin'?
Waking The Red: No-one's really surprised when things go wrong at TFC, but Dallas at the bottom of the West sounds strange. What the hell's gone wrong down there? Can they turn it around and make a playoff run?
Big D Soccer: Well it's just been a combination of terrible luck, ill-timed red cards and a team decimated by injuries. In the past 6 weeks or so, Dallas has been without both starting central defenders(George John/Ugo Ihemelu), their starting forward Blas Perez, Brek Shea, and their starting/backup attacking midfielders in David Ferreira and Ricardo Villar. You hate to make excuses but at some point the injuries become overwhelming. When half your team is out including 3 of your top 4 attacking players and your starting central defenders, things go wrong.
The good news is that it looks like Dallas will have most of those players back within the next game or two. Shea has returned already and Ferreira is slated for a return against TFC after 15 months out.
WTR: There's talk of David Ferreira being ready to play again, is he ready to start and what changes will that mean for the team, lineup and formation wise.
BDS: Yep, July 4 will be Independence Day for David Ferreira. It's not known yet whether he will be starting or a substitute, but "El Torito" should play against Toronto FC. Bluntly stated, he changes everything. He's the emotional leader of the team, the player the team is built around and the guy who brings the best out of everyone else.
What he means from a tactical standpoint is FCD moving back to the 4-1-3-1-1 formation that they took all the way to MLS Cup in 2010. It is based around Ferreira sitting behind the top forward(Blas Perez) and basically running the show. It also means a player like Fabian Castillo dropping to the bench and coming on as a spark in the last 20 minutes which would be a huge help as well considering the lack of depth on the FCD bench lately.
WTR: How has the signing of Blas Perez worked out so far? Will a fit and healthy Ferreira and Shea mean big things from him in the rest of the season?
BDS: Blas has been probably the MVP for Dallas in the first half of the season. He leads the team in goals(5) and assists(3) and has been everything that Schellas Hyndman could've wanted from a traditional #9 forward. He's a big,strong player who uses his body very well and thrives on half chances. He's not the type of forward to score a goal from outside the box, more the guy that finishes chances created by others.
It's really unknown how Blas and Ferreira will combine. You would hope that two veteran attacking players like that can figure things out very quickly but lately while Ferreira has been returning to training, Blas has been out with an ankle injury picked up in international duty with Panama. He's slated to return either on Wednesday or Saturday and is certainly a key to Dallas making a playoff push.
WTR: Bonus: Tell us about a Dallas player that may not be a household MLS name but could have a big impact on Wednesday.
BDS: Look out for FCD's Brazilian right midfielder Jackson. He was easily the man of the match two weeks ago against Houston and has been really coming on strong lately. He's the type of guy that can win a game with one great moment, though he can still work on combining better with his teammates as he tends to get tunnel vision when on the ball from time to time.
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BDS: Eric Avila was a guy that no one really wanted to leave but I think we’re all happy for him getting extended playing time with Toronto. How has he gotten on with TFC this year?
WTR: He was in and out of the team at the start of the season, not eligible for champions league play, and not really working out in the attacking midfield spot in Aron Winter's 4-3-3. He actually broke into the team in the Left Wing spot, having a couple of decent games, including scoring a great goal against RSL in what was his best game under Aron Winter.
Since Paul Mariner took over, he's started every game, usually playing a more defensive role than we've seen in the past, wide on the right, where ha also has the chance to pop up on the right wing, or more centrally behind the forwards. He's looked comfortable out there so far with a little more time on the ball than he was used to in Winter's midfield and though he could definitely be improved upon, he isn't a priority for TFC to upgrade in the transfer window.
BDS: Since ditching Aron Winter, the results have obviously gotten much better for Toronto, what’s been the biggest key to turning things around?
WTR: There's a few things really. The usual new coach bounce, a sense of relief that I'd say was as much to do with getting that 0-9 monkey off their back as it was moving on from Aron Winter. The formational change to a more basic 4-4-2, or 4-3-1-2 to break it down a bit more, has definitely helped as well at both ends of the pitch, after a couple of games to get used to things, and the removal of teen Doneil Henry from the lineup, the defence has looked a lot more organised recently. The extra midfielder has helped clog up the middle and force teams out wide, and both Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson look more effective as a pairing up front than either of them had as a single Centre Forward. Despite losing the 2 wingers that the 4-3-3 provided, we've also become a lot more effective from out wide now all the play isn't automatically funneled out there. There's fewer crosses going in, but they've been a lot more dangerous and led to plenty of goals.
I'd say the biggest factor though has been the health of Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings. Both of them suffered injuries early in the season and never really got going under Aron Winter, which really really hurt the team. Now both seem to be firing on all cylinders, especially Danny Koevermans who has 7 of the teams last 11 goals, which brings us handily to question 3.
BDS: Danny Koevermans was the MLS player of the week and could be the player of the month, why has he been so good lately and what’s the key to stopping him?
WTR: Well, the first thing is that he's healthy and fit after being in and out of the lineup to start the season, and as we saw last season a healthy Danny is a prolific Danny. The second part of the equation, and the best answer to how to stop him is about the quality of service he's been getting.
Under Aron Winter, the attack was a bit stale, we go wide, the wingers usually cut in, and the overlapping full back tries to get a cross in. It was predictable, not quite quick enough really, and thus easy to defend, especially when Koevermans or Ryan Johnson were the only target to aim for in the middle with the defence well set. Now we're attacking more down the middle, and more on the counter attack, and that's leading to quicker breaks against more unorganised defences. The quality of crosses that has come from this has been much improved, and Koevermans is lethal at finishing off that kind of move. Almost all his goals are just one touch from in close.
Don't give TFC space down the wings and you'll go a long way to cutting off the supply to koevermans and thus stopping him. Also make sure any centre back that's marking him doesn't take his eyes off him for a second at set pieces, his ability to lose a marker in the box to get a free header or get to a ball first is frighteningly good.
BDS: Bonus: Tell us about a TFC player that may not be a household MLS name but could have a big impact on Wednesday.
WTR: For this I'll go with the player who's been delivering so many quality balls for Koevermans recently, and that's left back Ashtone Morgan. He did a good job shutting Dane Richards down on Saturday, is always ready to join the attack, and has collected a lot of recent assists providing high quality balls in from the left for koevermans and Johnson.