With Sporting KC heading south for their first road test of the season, I caught up with journalist and FC Dallas radio broadcaster Steve Davis to preview Saturday's match. You check out Steve's work at FCDallas.com, WorldSoccerTalk.com, and SoccerGods.com, The match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. CT with live coverage available on the 38 The Spot (KMCI) in Kansas City, SKCTV across the midwest, 102.9 FM, and La Gran D 1340 AM.
JF: How did FC Dallas play in their season opener last weekend (1-0 win vs San Jose)?
SD: I think that like a lot of the first matches in the MLS, it was something less than lovely in terms of soccer. FC Dallas was just a little lucky in getting the late game winner from Blas Perez. They created some chances but not a ton. Again, that is just something that goes with the first match. Every team kinda goes through it so I think that it will get better just like Kansas City will get better. Sometimes I think that it is too early to draw conclusions from just 90 minutes. Mauro Diaz was mildly effective in midfield I would say, but not as effective as he might be as a playmaker as the season goes on and that limited some chances. Defensively, they looked fine but they didn´t try to attack that much. They were always trying to get out with a tie and after about 60 minutes in they didn’t try to attack at all. It is too tough to draw too many conclusions about the defense as well.
JF: What are the expectations for FC Dallas this season?
SD: Of course if you ask any team in Major League Soccer they are going to say that they expect to be in the MLS Cup in December. Is it realistic in Dallas´ case? I think a lot of people like Dallas as a dark horse favorite. I think in the West everybody likes Seattle and Los Angles for the obvious reasons and then they start getting into teams like Sporting KC and Dallas and say, especially in Dallas´ case you say “They might be able to get there if.” Then you start to bullet point the “ifs” and think that it is if Fabio Castillo stays healthy which he has had a problem doing, if Matt Hedges remains as durable as he´s been and he stays healthy and has another great season like he did last year and if Blas Perez can score in that 10-12 goal range. They´re still looking for another central midfielder. They need their Roger Espinoza. They need somebody who is a little bit more of a ball winner and a helter skelter creator in midfield because they don´t have that. If they did those things then they could be a pretty good team. So Dallas, like a lot of teams, they don´t have the depth to withstand a whole bunch of injuries. They can probably do some damage in the West but if they get hit with a couple of injuries spots then could go from a good team to an average team pretty quick.
JF: What did you take away from Sporting KC's opening match on Sunday against the Red Bulls?
SD: My initial reactions were that Ike Opara obviously had a great match and looks like he is going to be a wonderful replacement for Aurelien Collin. Of course, doing for 90 minutes is one thing and doing it for an entire season is something else. Again, we look at drawing early conclusions. I think that with some midfield shuffle created by Espinoza’s arrival etc., it might take Peter some time to figure out what exactly the best midfield shape is and what the best overall shape is for this team. Peter is a good coach and he will get that sorted out. Just like a lot of teams and a lot of games, they didn’t look like what they are going to look like in the future I think. They need to figure out what they are gong to be. Are the going to be the high pressing team that they used to be? Or are they going to play it a little different style? In early conclusions, they didn´t look as good as maybe you would like but it was the first game. If Dom Dwyer puts away a couple of those chances, which he will eventually, then we might be having a whole different conversation and say they look like the best team in Major League Soccer because there were some chances created there.
JF: What can Sporting KC fans expect to see from FC Dallas (style of play and players to watch)?
SD: Last year when Mauro Diaz was hurt Dallas became a very effective counterattacking team. Fabián Castillo´s speed with the ball is probably best in Major League Soccer. On the other side they just got a winger coming in (Micheal Barrios) so you got speed coming in. He is almost as fast as Fabían Castillo so you´ve got speed coming from both sides. If Mauro Diaz in there then the team looks a little different because he can hold the ball in midfield and slow the game down a little bit and so long as he stays healthy, they´ll play a little differently and will try to retain possession a little more. If Diaz were to be hit with another injury, then I think that you would see them go back to that counterattacking team. As Mauro Diaz missed 17 games last year I think and a lot of those games that they he did appear, he came in as a sub, it is hard to see exactly what exactly the team will look like. We will see over the course of four or five games if Mauro Diaz stays healthy. If he gets nicked with another injury then I think that they will go back to a little bit more conservative in the midfield. They won´t try to challenge for a lot of balls in midfield and will sit back a little more there knowing that they have the center backs that can clean things up behind them and try to set teams on the break which was very effective last year.
JF: What are you looking forward to seeing from Saturday's match?
SD: I am looking forward to seeing how Sporting KC deals with Fabián Castillo because very few teams have outside backs that can contain his speed. How teams dealt with him last year was that they tried to get the second guy over as quickly as possible. I would look for that to happen again but if Dallas uses Micheal Barrios on the other side, last week he came in as a sub I don´t know if he is starting this week, it is harder for teams because a quick switch of play and then there is not going to be a second guy there to get on the other side. I´m looking for how they use Barrios and how they try to spread teams out on speed either side.
Then from Kansas City´s side I´m just curious to see the balance created in midfield because I think with Fielhaber, Espinoza, depending on whether Graham Zusi comes inside or if he stays out wide and the ingredients Peter has to work with it is going to take him awhile to find the right balance. I´m not quite sure I saw it the other day. Who holds? Who goes forward? Especially between Feilhaber and Espinoza so that is what I´m looking for from Kansas City. How that chemistry develops going forward. Also, how they are going to look without Matt Besler? Obviously, he is a big part of the game and the Kansas City Team and they don´t have him this week.
JF: What are your thoughts on the Western Conference this season?
SD: As I said on my radio show and said in all the writing that I do, is absolutely brutal. There is no soft spot in the west. Last year you could say it with Chivas USA or San Jose. Well San Jose has got a manger now that knows what he is doing and Chivas USA is gone. I think every team has potential to be fighting for the playoff spot and it going to be an absolute crowbar fight for those playoff spots and I´ll finish up by saying is what I think it going to happen eventually in the playoffs –it wouldn´t surprise me- if the teams in the west end up beating each other so much in the regular season and in the play offs that they might have end up having to play a team in the East in the MLS Cup. Whoever comes out of the west might just get enough losses because the conference is so tough that team that comes out of the East will have a better record. We´ve got a long season to go before we start talking about the MLS cup but the west is just absolutely brutal.