MLS Weekend Preview
FC Dallas Defenders Face Tough Task Versus Villa
May 12, 2017
WE ARE JUST ABOUT one-third of the way through the 2017 MLS campaign, and one of the clubs widely seen as a title favorite during the preseason is the only undefeated team left in the entire league.
Keeping a zero in the loss column through Mother’s Day will be quite a challenge, however.
FC Dallas currently boasts the best record in MLS—five wins, no losses, three ties—but on Sunday has the difficult task of trying to slow down red-hot David Villa and the rest of New York City FC’s dangerous attack in one of the best matches of Week 11.
This battle between two sides that can play attractive soccer will be filled with intriguing match-ups all over the field, but none might be more interesting than Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman going up against Villa. The American centerback tandem posted a shutout in a road win over Real Salt Lake last weekend but stopping an in-form and confident Villa, a tireless golazo machine, is going to be the duo’s biggest test to date.
The showdown in central midfield will also be something to keep an eye on. Budding U.S. national team player Kellyn Acosta and either Carlos Gruezo or Victor Ulloa will try to limit NYCFC's pint-sized Argenitine playmaker Maximiliano Moralez from generating chances for NYCFC. If they can manage to do, Villa might find himself stranded up top, and that would make Hedges and Zimmerman smile.
The key player in this match, though, might be NYCFC’s other Designated Player. Andrea Pirlo is expected to return to the center of the pitch after going unused in the club’s last two matches due to tactical reasons; how he responds to his recent benching will be fascinating.
If Pirlo shows newfound energy and commitment to playing on both sides of the ball, New York City stand a chance at pulling out a win at Toyota Stadium. Should he be the same disinterested defender we've seen for much of the first two months of the season, FC Dallas should feel good about its chances of scoring a couple of goals and remaining unscathed.
There's no denying that the Houston Dynamo is a force to be reckoned with at home. Just ask recent victim Orlando City.
The Dynamo’s lethal attack will once again play inside the friendly confines of BBVA Compass Stadium, where the club is 5-0-1 on the year, and this time Houston will meet conference foe the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Friday fixture will likely see Dynamo forward Erick "Cubo" Torres back in the fold after missing last week’s rout because of a concussion. That means head coach Wilmer Cabrera will have the difficult decision of benching at least one of Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, and Mauro Manotas.
While the Whitecaps’ improving defense will have its hands full, the Canadian outfit needs to be just as concerned about its attack. Vancouver was victorious on the road in Week 10 thanks to a well-taken strike from Brek Shea, but that decisive tally came on a late counterattack against an anemic Colorado Rapids side that has been abysmal all season.
Hoping for another shutout win seems like a long shot against the Dynamo, so Shea, Fredy Montero, and the rest of the Whitecaps attack will need to be close to their best in order to have a shot at being the first team to steal three points in Houston.
ARGENTINE ATTACKERS ALERT
As far as Argentine Designated Players go, there might be no one hotter than Federico Higuain right now. Higuain has scored in three straight matches for Columbus Crew SC after finding the back of the net in Wednesday’s 2-1 home loss to Toronto FC. He will attempt to extend that streak to four when Gregg Berhhalter's team hits the road to take on Ignacio Piatti and the Montreal Impact.
Despite the midweek result and the manner in which it came about, Higuain is sure to enter the tilt at Stade Saputo with plenty of confidence. After all, you only really attempt a panenka in a scoreless match when you are fully convinced you will make it.
Not every Argentine is enjoying a good run of form right now. Gonzalo Veron failed to dress for the New York Red Bulls in its 3-0 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Union, and New York head coach Jesse Marsch said this week the decision was due to Veron turning in a poor performance against Sporting Kansas City just days prior.
Veron is looking like a DP bust these days and is unlikely to start in the Red Bulls’ Sunday affair with the LA Galaxy, but he needs to make the most of his opportunity should he see the field at Red Bull Arena. If he even makes the game-day roster, that is.
SEARCHING FOR MOMENTUM
Finally, the Philadelphia Union ended its winless run. Now, the club’s mission is to keep this momentum going.
The Union will attempt to make it back-to-back weeks with a win for the first time in forever when it travels down I-95 to take on D.C. United on Saturday. The Eastern Conference bout surely will not be easy for Philadelphia but it presents a glorious chance to triumph again given how lackluster D.C.’s attack has been as of late.
Minnesota United is in a similar situation as the Union. The expansion club surprised Sporting Kansas City with a 2-0 blanking last week, and will try to pick up three points for the second consecutive match in Saturday’s visit to Toronto. Former U.S. national team player Miguel Ibarra played a big part in last week’s victory, registering a pair of assists. Another strong outing from him could do wonders for Minnesota’s chances.
SKILL & SAVVY VS. SPEED & STRENGTH
One possible individual encounter that you will not want to miss is Orlando playmaker Kaka going up against Kansas City centerback Ike Opara. Kaka will likely be back in the Lions’ lineup after resting last weekend, and the Brazilian will need to count on every bit of his experience and quality in order to beat Opara—an athletic beast who is coming into his own this season.
MLS WEEK 11 SCHEDULE
Friday’s MLS Game
Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
Saturday’s MLS Games
Toronto FC vs. Minnesota United
Colorado Rapids vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Montreal Impact vs. Columbus Crew SC
D.C. United vs. Philadelphia Union
Orlando City vs. Sporting Kansas City
New England Revolution vs. Real Salt Lake
Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders
Sunday’s MLS Games
Portland Timbers vs. Atlanta United
New York Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy
FC Dallas vs. New York City FC
Franco Panizo is a bilingual New York-based reporter who has covered the U.S. men's national team, MLS, and all levels of American soccer for nearly a decade. Follow him on Twitter.