As Sporting KC hosts FC Dallas in the midst of a five match unbeaten streak, I caught up with journalist and FC Dallas radio broadcaster Steve Davis to preview Friday's match. You check out Steve's work at FCDallas.com, WorldSoccerTalk.com, and SoccerGods.com, The match will kick off at 8:00 p.m. CT with live coverage available on the 38 The Spot (KMCI) in Kansas City, nationally on UniMas, Sports Radio 810 WHB, and La Grande 1340 AM.
Jonathon Feyerherm: These two sides met back on March 14 (3-1 win by FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium). How different/similar is this FC Dallas side heading into tonight's match?
Steve Davis: Really there's not that much different. Fabian Castillo has come up with a little bit of an injury, so obviously that's somebody who if he doesn't play Friday it'll make it a little different of a team. Otherwise, Dallas has been pretty fortunate this year with injuries. Mauro Diaz had to miss about a month, few other guys have missed a few games, but otherwise it's been fairly steady and just a little bit of changing out at one midfield spot on the right. Tesho Akindele and Ryan Hollingshead, they've kind of been coming in and out. But that's it, it's about the same team. That lineup stability is one the reasons they've been able to do so well this year.
JF: What are your thoughts on Sporting KC's recent form?
SD: It's difficult to really assess Sporting KC this year because they had such a great week last week, really rolling over a good New England team and then going up to Seattle and taking a scoreless draw. Taking four points out of two tough games only three days apart. The lineup that Peter put out there was probably not his ideal lineup in any case, there's a lot of missing pieces. On the one hand, you say it's a great week for the team, but on the other hand I think it's difficult to make too many assessments based on what really was a piecemeal lineup that we probably won't see once some of the players get a bit healthier.
JF: What's been the key to FC Dallas' strong start to the season?
SD: I think it's the same team they had last year. There wasn't a whole lot of change. Over last year they were dealing with a lot of injuries, essentially what Sporting KC has gone through the last couple weeks, Dallas went through that last year. I think that they have a pretty good team, I wouldn't look at them and say they have a great team because so many of the pieces are so young. If you look at really key positions, you know like Victor Ulloa, a very young player playing in central midfield. For about a month there it was Victor Ulloa and Kellyn Acosta playing in the two holding-midfield roles and even ahead of them, Mauro Diaz is only 24 years-old. You look at it, right in the middle of the park, you got two home-grown's and a guy who's just turned 24. So there's still a lot of inexperience in there. When you look around, maybe you say Fabian Castillo is the best player on the team, he's 22. Matt Hedges, easily the best defender, is 25. You start thinking about some of the things like that and a lot of the best players are still very young. Its a good team, but not a great team because they're still prone to making some young, inexperienced mistakes out there.
JF: How are you expecting FC Dallas to approach this match?
SD: FC Dallas typically likes to sit back for the first 20 minutes and sit back in a protective stance on the road and asses the game a little bit, and then 20 maybe 30 minutes in, they start come out a little bit more. They really just don't want to go behind early on the road. And I don't expect it to be any different. If Fabian Castillo cannot play, they might try to possess the ball a little bit more and not try to hit on the counter quite as much, because obviously that's the ability that Fabian Castillo gives you. For my money, he is the fastest player in the league. I've seen balls that roll into the corner and everyone stops and seems to take a bite of their hotdog or drink their coke because they know the ball is going out and then look back and Fabian Castillo has caught up of with it. That kind of speed really challenges teams and causes them to play a little bit differently. Everybody has figured out that the first guy sort of delays Fabian until they can get the second guy over and the third guy over. That's what I expect Kansas City to do. But again, the whole game changes on both sides if Fabian Castillo cannot play. Then Kansas City may be able to get its fullbacks forward a little bit more, as they always like to do, of course. Dallas tries to possess a little bit more and not attack on counter as much.
JF: What are some things you're looking forward to seeing for tonight's match?
SD: It's difficult to say without knowing exactly which players are going for Sporting KC. If Graham Zusi is close to going the full 90, I always enjoy watching him. Every game, I enjoy watching Benny Feilhaber, I think he's one of the absolute best in the league this year. Otherwise, I typically enjoy watching Kansas City play, especially at home because even though they don't quite press as high and as hard as Kansas City teams from a couple of years ago, they're still aggressive and they're still good at getting their fullbacks into the attack when you have numbers like that on the attack it makes for a more exciting game. I always like watching Kansas City play.
JF:: Who are some of the key FC Dallas players to watch in tonight's match?
SD: I think if you watch Dallas play what you notice a lot of is Zach Lloyd at center-back, or Walker Zimmerman when he plays in there. He keeps moving around. You see a lot of emergency defending. You see those guys making diving-header clearances or very late tackles, game-changing type tackles at the very last minute on a shooter. And it's very exciting but I think the more you watch FC Dallas, what you come to appreciate is that there's a guy next to them named Matt Hedges, and you don't see a lot of that from him because Matt Hedges is so well positioned all the time and he's so good at thinking his way through the game. He's a lot like Matt Besler in that way. You know Matt Besler doesn't often get into positions where he's having to dive and lunge. He better about reading and knowing when to step in and when to get back, when to move laterally. His positioning is just good enough and Matt Hedges is the same way. I think behind him, Dan Kennedy, who they rescued from the embers of Chivas USA, of course, he has gotten more familiar as he's started now for a little bit longer than a month, gotten more familiar with the back line and how everyone moves in synchronization. I think he's now proving why Dallas was very excited to get him in that Dispersal Draft. Aside from that, if Castillo plays, he's always worth the price of admission by himself. The way he run tirelessly at defenders. Sometimes he dribbles a little too long still, but once or twice a game he will beat one, two, three or four guys. He's on track right now for a career best for goals and assists.