When FC Dallas was eliminated by the eventual MLS Cup Champions, the Portland Timbers, in the Western Conference Final of last year's playoffs, the mood wasn't as somber as one might imagine. While falling just short of the MLS Cup Final was certainly a disappointment, especially given their excellent regular season form (top spot in the Western Conference, missing out on the Supporters' Shield only on goal difference) there was certainly reason for optimism.
Dallas has maintained one of the strongest young cores in the league. Several crucial players on Dallas' roster are products of their academy: 20 year-old Jesse Gonzalez is the team's starting goalkeeper; 20 year-old Kellyn Acosta has asserted himself as a key cog in the team's defensive midfield; and 24 year-old Victor Ulloa provides essential midfield relief coming off the bench. FC Dallas are the envy of many teams in the league; they are able to field internally-developed players on a consistent basis, and they reap the rewards.
While the academy is paramount to the club's success, it is a young Designated Player that truly makes FC Dallas tick. Mauro Diaz lines up as a classic No. 10 in Dallas' 4-2-3-1. The Argentine's expertise is delivering a final ball to a forward making an attacking run behind the opponent's defense. These runs are often made by the team's wingers: Fabian Castillo (another DP) and Michael Barrios, both of whom are viciously quick. Diaz is capable of anticipating these runs and playing a rolled pass to meet them.
With Blas Perez's departure to Vancouver, Dallas now lacks a true target forward. Maximiliano Urruti was acquired from Portland in order to fill the gap left by the Panamanian, and it could be argued that his style of play suits the Texas side even better. Diaz and Urruti, both natives of Argentina, are best friends off the field, and have already developed a strong chemistry on it. Urruti, while lacking a strong aerial presence, is equally capable as Dallas' wingers of finding space behind the defense with a cutting run.
In order for the Impact to halt Dallas' attack, it will be vital to neutralize Mauro Diaz, their main source of offensive creativity. Montreal's defensive midfield will have to constantly be aware of the movement of Dallas' No. 10, so as to eliminate the threat of his passes piercing the defense.
It will also be essential for the fullbacks, Ambroise Oyongo and Donny Toia, to track the runs of Castillo and Barrios, as both are capable of scoring goals, regardless of their starting position on the touchline. One thing is for certain: winning on the road in MLS is difficult enough against any team; doing so against Dallas would certainly be a statement heard around the league.
What do you think of the opposing FC Dallas team?
Who do you think is important for the Impact to stop?