Originally posted on Total MLS  |  Last updated 7/7/12

Admit it – you didn’t pin San Jose to do anything significant this year, either. The Quakes have surprised many, including this writer, with their meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the Western Conference in the first half of the 2012 season. No one probably predicted the dramatic fall of Dallas, given the auspicious beginning to 2012 with a domineering performance against New York, and impending 12-game winless streak. As a result, tonight will feature a match pitting the conference’s best against its worst.

San Jose will be determined more than ever to win this match after dropping three points in Portland on Tuesday night. Chris Wondolowski, MLS’ best goal scorer this campaign, was blanked and frustrated by a Portland defense that is hardly well regarded. FC Dallas enters the match on unfulfilled by Wednesday night’s Independence Day draw against former league-worst Toronto FC. Both sides need these points for opposite reasons: San Jose needs points to buffer its lead at the top of the conference whilst FCD need a victory to spark some type of reversal in fortune.

The Nor-Cal Attack

The Quakes’ success bases itself on a high-flying offense that more resembles the Dallas Mavericks from 2001-2003, or the “Nelson Years.” Don’s side couldn’t keep the opposition under 100 points, but they would at least score 115. It’s a very similar situation in Northern California with Frank Yallop’s side, as they have a record this year littered with 3-2’s, a recent 4-3 against the Galaxy, and even a 5-3 against DC United. To that end, San Jose hasn’t managed a shutout since an away match against the Sounders on March 31st.

Speed on the wings, accurate service, and quality finishing up top: all have made this Northern Californian attack lethal. Former FC Dallas winger and utility man extraordinaire Marvin Chavez is having a career year firing cross after cross into the frames of Quakes forwards Wondolowski, Gordon, and Lenhart. Shea Salinas has had equal success on Chavez’s opposite flank, despite being out for three months and just returning last week to full fitness. It is no coincidence that San Jose have scored almost a third of their 36 goals from crosses. Five more goals have come from corners.

Ending the Nor-Cal Attack.

Dallas will have to cope with this attack in a couple of ways. For one, denying service into the box, where 22 goals have occurred (more than Dallas’ entire goal output in 2012) for the Quakes, will be of the utmost importance.  Seeing that Chavez, Baca, and Salinas do not have clear service lanes into the penalty area would be a priority.

Secondly, marking in the back is equally as critical. Matt Hedges and Hernan Pertuz – the two biggest bodies on the back line – will need to be up to the task. That is wholly evident. However, Wondolowski, as well as Baca and Salinas, are just as craft and capable of disappearing behind the back line and making a late third run onto a service from the wings, meaning more discipline will be demanded out of Zach Loyd and Carlos Rodriguez.

Focus entirely on San Jose and their loss to Portland Tuesday. What did Portland do right to grab an important three points? For one, they defended well on the wings and marked well in the box. Two, they countered on San Jose well, as the Quakes throw great numbers forward and can be exposed in the spaces left by their attacking wings, backs, and center midfielders. Portland’s first goal was the perfect example of this. Three, the Timbers pressed hard in the center of midfield, where San Jose is arguably weaker. Lastly, the Timbers’ best chances were all created when they won the ball back in the San Jose midfield and defensive thirds. The Quakes simply looked frustrated by the high pressure applied by Portland and couldn’t quite settle into their own modes of play.

Putting the Toronto Match Behind

Hyndman and his side can put behind the disappointment that was Wednesday night, but not without taking a couple of lessons from it.  For one, if Dallas builds as slowly out of the back as they did against Toronto (or most of the season for that matter), they will find huge numbers behind the ball opposing them. Pace in the attack will lack, and be tough to build out of nothing without needed momentum.

Secondly, Dallas needs to be better with the ball. Both a 71% pass completion rate, followed by a 50% pass completion rate in the final third show a team that is wasteful and hesitant going forward. Only a tenth of all team passes were in the attacking (or final third), and puts that number at 36 total (good sides will average in the 80’s). FCD’s quality is on the wings and up top, and if the center midfield trio of Hernandez, Marcelin, and Jacobson simply focusing on winning the ball and filtering it wide, these numbers will improve.

This is a fixture FCD dropped last year due to two quick first half goals from Chris Wondolowski. The striker’s talents certainly aren’t underestimated, but focusing too much attention on Wondo will open up other options for San Jose. Lenhart, Gordon, and Chavez have all proven to be lethal components that switch on when Wondolowski is off. And yes, they score often late in the match…often.

It is no small task to take down Yallop’s squad – they are 6-3-1 on the road this season, averaging nearly two goals a match. But if FCD take a few notes from Portland, as well as the match against Toronto, and spring an early lead they may find themselves with a leg up. The Quakes after letting up the first goal are worse off than the Quakes after scoring the first goal. After all, Dallas has a winless skid to end. Victory against the league leaders would be a mighty scalp to mount on the FC Dallas front office.

(image courtesy of fcdallas.com)

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