Part One was posted earlier, looking over their lineup and form
The first thing to note when cautioning about Dallas' threat is speed. They are a very quick team, especially in attack.
One must look no further than Fabian Castillo to assess this challenge. He is quick; in his own words (well, through a translator at least): "There’s a lot of different ways of being fast on the field. I’m really fast with the ball at my feet. I’m probably faster than [most] others with the ball at my feet."
He's not simply boasting; he's right. And not only is he fast, but he is tricky as well. Check out this blistering mazey run against Kansas City:
As a central feature of the Dallas attack, what makes Castillo so troublesome is the sheer variety with which he can bamboozle defenders. Whether twisting them up, as he did to Amadou Dia in KC, forcing the focus upon himself before pulling back a pass to a teammate – as he did on Ryan Hollingshead goal against Philadelphia, or cutting onto his right-foot for an attempt at goal, Castillo much be watched carefully.
Philadelphia were largely at his mercy, but fortunately for them this effort would only strike the bar:
But it is not just Castillo that will cause problems, he is but one part of a sweeping attack that has thus far shown itself very adept at using the entire width of the pitch and diagonal movements, which, when combined with that speed, is nearly unstoppable.
Consider Blas Perez' goal against Sporting KC. Castillo drives at the KC defenders, putting them on the back-foot before threading a ball to the spacious right-channel for Tesho Akindele, he in turn lays the ball into space further right, where an unmarked Perez is free to finish:
There is an oozing quality to their game. Like an amorphous blob overflowing into the open space – it is at times intoxicating to watch; for fans and opposing defenders alike.
Castillo's goal from that same match provides another look at that progression forward and exemplifies how dangerous Dallas can be on the counter, if given the time and space to pick their passes. A Michel long ball springs Hollingshead down the right, who squares to Castillo, setting him up to round the keeper for a simple finish:
Toronto, especially the full-backs, who have thus far not covered themselves in glory, will have to be very alert to those movement both from and into the wide areas. The game may be won in those battles.
There is one name that has so far been notably absent from this discussion: Mauro Diaz. While he has yet to figure in the scoresheet, in his three matches Dallas has won each, outscoring their opponents 6-1 in the process. He is the glue that holds that blob together. If he plays, he must be carefully tracked and closed down. Michael Bradley is a match for Diaz, but the little man will find his spaces.
It is not all speed and thrust with Dallas, they can hurt in numerous ways. Whether pressuring turnovers – as Akindele did for his goal against Philadelphia – or from set-pieces – Akindele again getting on the end of a flicked-Michel corner kick at the back-post in Portland – they will find ways to threaten.
Michel is the primary set-piece taker and he delivers wonderful service from corner kicks, free-kicks, and crosses. He may even have a go at goal himself, ringing the crossbar against Seattle.
And perhaps his favourite target is the one final cautionary note: Blas Perez.
The veteran Panamanian striker is everything that one could want in a forward. He is gutsy, annoying, willing to mix it up, and will even go down easy when necessary (shocking, and helpful), but it is that knack for finding space that he has made a career of and is so devastating.
It was he who found the stoppage-time winner against San Jose on opening day, ghosting in-between a pair of defenders to get the necessary final touch on a redirected shot:
Once more finding that back-side space, Perez would score the eventual winner against Kansas City, getting on the end of a Michel cross from a recycled corner kick – he may indeed have been off-side, but he treads that line with the best of them:
The quintessential poacher – the TFC back-line will need to be wary of his machinations and patient in the face of his infernal prodding. David Texeira, should he get the start, is a touch less wily than Perez, but has many of those same skill-sets, but a touch more speed in his younger legs.
For all their threats going forward, the last weeks have shown there are gaps at the back to be exploited, foremost of which is a softness in the middle of the pitch.
As discussed in Part One, Dallas' back-line has seen an inconsistent composition, which leads to an, at times, scrambled nature. It is a weakness that involves not only the back-four, but also the midfield, were Victor Ulloa can be left to fend for that space by himself with Michel pressed forward.
Three goals in particular have shown this; the first two directly and the third as a consequence of the pressure that can be felt by defenders when forced to scramble. Max Urruti's winner for Portland, though perhaps offside, saw Darlington Nagbe surge from left to right, cutting through a very soft midfield before finding Dairon Asprilla on the right. Urruti got the key touch on his subsequent near-post ball, but it was the ease with which Nagbe strode forward that should be noted:
That is the sort of driving play that Toronto wants to see from Sebastian Giovinco and Dallas are ripe to be exploited by his skills.
Colorado's third goal in their 0-4 win last Friday provides another look at that failure in awareness.
When faced with Nagbe's charge, Dallas focused too much on him, forgetting about the wide spaces and letting Urruti get position. Against the Rapids, it was the strong play of Dillon Powers that drew the attention of the defenders. His pull-back to the top of the area, eventually finding the foot of Gabriel Torres with defenders reacting late to the impeding threat, was far too easy of a goal to concede:
TFC is set up to perfectly make use of this lack of awareness, having a side that is primed for late runners into the area, whether Benoit Cheyrou, as he did against Chicago, or the likes of Jonathan Osorio who is due for his first goal of the season.
That same lack of composure cost Dallas early against Colorado, as the defenders were forced to turn and face their own goal by a lovely, low Powers cross from the right that allowed Dominique Badji to get the key touch:
Again, TFC has the potential to threaten in that manner, with Jozy Altidore racing onto the service, using his size, speed, and clever runs to take advantage of that lack of threat awareness from the Dallas defenders.
Another result of that disjointed nature is a vulnerability to shots from distance, as no player takes command, allowing far too much time for opponents to get off attempts at goal. Both Roger Espinoza and Dillon Serna took advantage of that, with Espinoza's strike the more instructional of the two:
Far too much time to allow the KC midfielder to pick his shot. Though they have not shown it of late, Toronto has several players, Bradley in particular, who can make Dallas pay should they give him the luxury of such an effort.
Serna's strike was the result of a midfield turnover and lack of pressure from a back-pedalling defender or two – wonderful though it was. It points more to the next vulnerability that Toronto should look to exploit: Dallas is open to counter attacks.
When pressing forward, it is not unusual for Dallas to have at least four, if not five players, committed to that vast flow towards goal. That leaves them with limited numbers at the back, even more so if the full-backs and defensive midfielders can be caught advancing as well.
Diego Chara's goal for Portland, crafted when Michael Barrios was pressured in possession, forcing a turnover that allowed the Timbers defensive midfielder a clear path to goal for a calm finish:
Greg Vanney wants his team to press in just those sort of situations and TFC has the speed to threaten. That said, it is a fine line between pressing and getting caught leaving too much space at the back.
One final weakness that Toronto should look to expose that combines both the susceptibility to counters and the poor defensive marking is aerial threats, especially if Matt Hedges is not fit for the weekend.
Whether from the run of play – where Chad Barrett's free-header was sent wide of the post, Hollingshead just recovering enough to get in an off-putting shove – or from set-pieces – where Nat Borchers was woefully covered at the back-post as Atiba Harris and Hedges appeared to get tangled up in marking Fanendo Adi – Toronto needs to use width and presence in the box to find their chances.
TFC does not have a ton of height, so set-pieces may be the more likely, and if either Nick Hagglund or Steven Caldwell are left as open as Borchers, they should be able to similarly take advantage:
As with all MLS teams, Dallas, despite their lofty position, has their strengths and their weaknesses, the winner on Saturday will be determined by who protects theirs and exploits the others on the night.
Points of Interest
Last Meeting: April 19th, 2014 FC Dallas 2: Toronto FC 1
Issey Nakajima-Farran gave TFC the lead in the 21st minute, pouncing on his own rebound after Jackson had played him in. But Matt Hedges responded eleven minutes later, rising over Mark Bloom to get on the end of a Michel corner, beating Julio Cesar with the header. And Blas Perez would play the late hero, pouncing on a loose ball in the box to find the 88th minute winner.
The two have met thirteen times previously, with Dallas winning seven to Toronto's one, the other five encounters have ended in draws.
Seven of those matches have been played in Dallas, where TFC has never won, taking points on only two occasions with draws in 2008 and 2012.
Dallas are unbeaten in the last twelve overall, dating back to the initial meeting in 2007, where TFC won 4-0 at home on goals from Maurice Edu, Danny Dichio, Carl Robinson, and Jeff Cunningham. A match that still stands as their record home win.
All that considered, Toronto did win there once in the CONCACAF Champions League, riding a scintillating performance from Joao Plata to a 0-3 result that saw them advance to the knockout rounds at Dallas' expense. Toronto lost the home match 0-1 in front of a bare-bones, early morning crowd after inclement weather forced the abandonment of the previous night's progress.
The opening to 2015 has not been particularly kind to TFC, facing tricky opponents with whom they have little historical success. In a bizarre twist, as with the Salt Lake game, TFC faced Dallas almost exactly one year ago. Clearly MLS is just recycling past schedules.
This is a winnable game – they all are, but Toronto will have to show better defensive cohesion and be as purposeful in attack as they were against Chicago to come out on top.