FC Dallas will be at BMO Field today to play Toronto FC, but which version of the team shows up remains to be seen. Considered one of the best teams in Major League Soccer, Dallas has had an up and down start to the 2016 season.
Lately, the club has been on a downward spiral. They lost their past two road matches by a combined seven goals: 3-0 to the Vancouver Whitecaps and 4-0 to New York Red Bulls. Earlier in the season, they were pounded 5-0 by the Houston Dynamo, also on the road.
However, FC Dallas is undefeated at home, and one would presume it is only a matter of time before that form translates to the road. Dallas currently sits third in the Western Conference, the same spot that Toronto FC occupy in the east.
It is difficult to know what to expect from FC Dallas today. Will they be the vicious attacking team that can tear opposing defenses apart, or will they have another defensive meltdown as they have their past two matches? Toronto FC is prepared for both.
"It's hard to know whether they think the way they went about those last few games is wrong, and now they want to make a point of coming here and really changing that," said Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley. "Or whether or not it goes the other way and they think that after a few losses they want to make sure that they tighten things up and that they are hard to play against and actually become a little tighter defensively. It's impossible to know, we will be ready for everything."
Everywhere Dallas has gone this season, goals have followed. The club has scored 15, good for third-best in Major League Soccer and six more than Toronto FC has managed. They have also allowed 17 goals, which is second worst in the league.
Remind you of anyone? In many ways FC Dallas so far this season has resembled last year's Toronto FC: offensively gifted but defensively vulnerable. This is especially true since Dallas' best defender, Matt Hedges, went down with an injury.
This year's Toronto FC, on the other hand, has been significantly better defensively. They have allowed just seven goals, making them the best defensive team in the league. Today, however, will be a big test of their ability.
"It's important that we stay connected and that we are diligent and disciplined behind our attacks to make sure that we don't get hurt on the counter attacks," said head coach Greg Vanney. "It's everything that we have done to date, and we have to make sure that we don't get hurt on the counter attack."
As Vanney points out, the FC Dallas counter attack is their best attacking weapon and what Toronto FC will need to overcome today if they want to win their home opener. Dallas is blessed with a number of attacking weapons, including ex-Toronto FC striker Maxi Urruti, Canadian international Tesho Akindele, Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios.
Toronto FC midfield Jonathan Osorio says that in order to defend against an attacking unit like that, especially the centrepiece Diaz, Toronto needs to be defensively aware.
"Especially when we have the ball, I think that's where they are most dangerous, in transition," said Osorio.
If Toronto FC is able to deal with the Dallas counter-attack, there is good chance they secure their first three home points of the season. If they can't, they will have to deal with the monster that if the FC Dallas attack, and after being embarrassed in the last two matches, it is eagerly looking to claim a victim.