So how do we play this? Yesterday, I took a look at the various strategies that Tommy might employ vis-a-vis squad selection. In all likelihood, I think we won't see too many surprises tonight. Fred missing a couple of practices probably means he'll start on the bench. Jaime's slight injury probably binds him to the pine as well. But the rest? Let's look at some keys to the game first.
- Attack early and attack often. Dallas have the worst defense in the league, surrendering goals at a rate of two per game. They also boast a league-worst minus 6 goal differential. With Sala suspended in net, and Burse having a shaky start to the season, it's imperative that we pile on the pressure. And if we grab the early lead, we need to keep our foot on their throat. None of this "protect the 1-0" Italian garbaggio. Dallas is a team struggling for confidence, so where's the sense in giving them any?
- Clamp down on their game-changers. While we need to attack with numbers, we do need to keep a weather eye out for the danger that they can pose on the break. Cooper and Cunningham both have the potential to pull diamonds from the dross, Cooper by virtue of his (sometimes accurate) bombs from distance, and Cunningham with his fleet feet. Van den Bergh has also troubled us in the past, so we'll need to negate his threat on the left wing, either through tight harassment or by putting so much pressure on their left flank that he's forced into a more defensive role. Crayton's flapping at crosses should double our worry in this department.
- Stretch and bomb. While getting good chances is key, it may also be necessary to unleash the bombs from distance as a means to getting Dallas to step out a little. I suspect their response to having been so vulnerable thus far will be to play deeper and more compact, thus necessitating both getting the ball into wide areas to stretch their lines and hitting some shots from outside the 18 so they'll have to step up to honor those opportunities.
Ah, I see the questions already, so let's address them, shall we?
#1: Khumalo on the right and no Pontius? Why? Well, this is part of the "keep the core solid and rotate in a few changes" approach to squad rotation. You don't want to break up the team chemistry by making too many changes, but sensible rotation can keep the legs (and the hunger) fresh. Pontius is also available (along with Moreno) to come on when Gomez eventually fades. Also, I think Khumalo's running puts more direct pressure on Dallas' left flank, thus forcing van den Bergh to defend more.
#2: Janicki on the left? Huh? An experiment, you could call it, and one that Tommy probably won't carry out (I actually expect we'll be seeing Burch again). In an ideal world, we'd be in a four-back line with Janicki in the wrecking ball role and Jakovic as the sweeper/distributor. But I think Tommy will stick with the 3-5-2 until sides begin to exploit it again, so let's see how Janicki can do on the left. I've never made it a secret that I'm no huge fan of Burch on the left side of a back three. Avery John is a more natural fit, but we already know what he's capable of bringing to the party. Why not see what Janicki can do? If he fails, you make a change. If not, you've suddenly got options. Of course, in that ideal world I keep referring to, we'd be lining up like...
With N'Silu as cover up top, Fred, Moreno and Khumalo as attacking mid depth, Jacobson and McTavish backing up the holding mids, Barklage as cover for any midfield spot, and Burch, John, Peters, and DiRaimondo/McTavish waiting to fill the gaps in the back. Yes, the defensive depth is a bit suspect, as is our backup keeper situation (for now--I'm still hopeful that Kocic will blossom), but we're fairly deep elsewhere, considering the limitations of roster size and salary cap.
[Just as an aside for a moment...I'd love to see what Fred could do in the wide left role in the above 4-2-3-1 where he has fewer defensive responsibilities. If he's not appreciably better than Pontius or Barklage, I wonder if we might be able to work a trade for some depth and bite at holding midfield in the summer.]
So, where do you stand? Want to see changes in formation or players? Eager to lay a real thrashing on Dallas? Worried that the Parity Police might give us a good clubbing tonight? How would you line them up?