It all comes down to the final day of the regular season for FC Dallas and their playoff aspirations as Sporting Kansas City comes to town to try to spoil the party at Toyota Stadium.
Date: Sunday, October 6th
Time: 3:00 PM CST
Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
How to Watch: TXA21 (DFW), ESPN+ (outside DFW)
This will be the second and final match-up between FC Dallas and Sporting KC in the 2019 season. The first match-up at Children’s Mercy Park on July 20th ended in a 2-0 victory for FC Dallas with goals from Dominique Badji and Jesus Ferreira. Sporting Kansas City has been a bit of a tough team for FC Dallas in recent seasons. Going back to the 2014 season, SKC has won 8 of the 16 match-ups between the clubs while FCD has only taken the 3 points on 5 occasions. Traditionally, the home team has typically come away victorious, though in recent seasons this trend has reversed with the away side winning 3 out of the last 4 match-ups between the sides.
Sporting KC was eliminated from the playoffs following their loss to Minnesota United on September 25th. This season has been a massive disappointment for Peter Vermes and his squad. SKC got off to an exciting start after knocking out Liga MX side Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League but were unable to maintain their hot start after they were obliterated 10-2 on aggregate to Liga MX giants Monterrey in the CCL semi-finals. That defeat, along with CCL fixture congestion, seemed to have a huge effect on the team as the normally defensively stout SKC shipped a huge number of goals in the first half of the season.
After years of finishing near the top of the Western Conference and being consistent playoff contenders, the squad’s high average age finally seemed to catch up with them as former USMNT stalwarts Matt Besler and Graham Zusi finally started to slow down and SKC’s attempts to replace long-time defender Ike Opara were decidedly unsuccessful. SKC currently sits 10th in the Western Conference with 38 points from a 10-8-15 record. Their 61 goals conceded is the worst in the conference and only FC Cincinnati, who have set a new MLS record for goals conceded, have conceded more goals in 2019. At this point, SKC is simply hoping to play the spoiler and ruin Dallas’ chances at getting into the playoffs.
Dallas enters the game in the 7th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, a familiar spot for FCD in recent weeks. Thanks to more dropped points from their fellow playoff contenders, the fact that FC Dallas was only able to take 2 points out of their 4 September games has not had an overly negative impact on their standing in the conference and Dallas is fully in control of their destiny.
Simply put, an FCD win gets into the playoffs. A draw combined with a San Jose loss or draw will also get them in and even a loss against SKC combined with a San Jose loss and Colorado draw or loss will put FCD into the 7th and final spot in the playoffs. Dallas currently has 45 points through a 12-9-12 record. Their formerly impressive goal differential has evaporated to a meager +2 with 48 scored and 46 conceded.
Even with FCD’s recent poor run of form, anything other than a victory for FCD in this game would be a massive disappointment for everyone involved in the organization from top to bottom.
Luchi Gonzalez has largely stuck with a very similar lineup in recent weeks, this lineup mostly sticks to that formula with some slight changes due to returns from injury. Brandon Servania returns to his linking midfield position after being fully cleared and participating in training this week. This change moves Paxton Pomykal from that spot onto the left-wing, replacing Dominique Badji, who put in another underwhelming 90-minute performance against his former team in the previous match against Colorado.
The “back 6” consisting of goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, the defensive back four and holding midfielder Bryan Acosta is essentially locked into place at this point. Luchi Gonzalez seems to have placed a lot of trust in the aforementioned Badji, even with his lack of goal or assist return in recent games, so don’t be surprised to see him get another start.
Sporting Kansas City
With two regular starters in Roger Espinzoa and Ilie suspended for red cards in SKC’s last game against Portland, it is hard to say exactly who will get the start in midfield for SKC. Ilie has actually been playing center back in recent games, so veteran Matt Besler steps back into the lineup to replace him. Liechteistein international Nicolas Hasler moves into Espinoza’s defensive midfield spot. The rest of this lineup is unchanged from SKC’s 2-2 draw against Portland last Sunday. Erik Hurtado is another potential option up top in place of the streaky Krisztian Nemeth. US U-17 international and SKC homegrown Gianluca Busio will be an interesting player to watch as he matches up with the homegrown midfielders in the Dallas lineup.
Keys to the Match
Treat It Like a Playoff Game
For all intents and purposes, this is a play-in game for the playoffs for FC Dallas. Technically speaking, FCD could still lose to SKC and get into the playoffs, but that is, of course, a terrible way to back into the playoffs. FCD needs to treat this game as if they were hosting a play-in game to get into the playoffs, which means they should treat it as if they’re already in the playoffs and anything other than a win will eliminate them. SKC are a team playing for nothing but pride and the opportunity to be a spoiler, Dallas has to establish from the outset that this game means far more to them than it does for SKC.
That being said, SKC are going to do everything they can to frustrate the home side. They’ve had a tough season but this is still a team full of MLS veterans and led by a veteran coach that would absolutely love to go into Frisco, silence the crowd and ruin FCD’s playoff chances. FCD will have to be patient, trying to desperately win the game in the first 15 minutes or the first half could lead to allowing SKC an opportunity to establish a real foothold and an early advantage in the game, which is the worst-case scenario for FCD.
Win the Midfield
Dallas is lucky that a lack of discipline led to red cards for SKC midfielders Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez. Their absence will certainly make life easier for the FCD midfield but it also means there should be absolutely no excuse for them to not win and even dominate the midfield, something the team has struggled with throughout this poor run of form in September. Dallas has been poor at finishing chances throughout the season, they’ll hope to reverse course on that trend in the final game of the season but if they can’t do so, the next best way to get through a leaky SKC defense will be to overwhelm them with shots and chances, and those will most easily be generated through dominance in the middle of the park.
Will FC Dallas take care of business, defeat SKC and clinch their spot in the playoffs? Or will they drop points and back into the playoffs or even miss the playoffs entirely? Who will get the starting nod from Luchi Gonzalez for this pivotal end of season contest? Sound off in the comments below!
Featured Image: Peter G Aiken/USA Today