After a couple of hard fought draws against teams near the top of the Eastern Conference, Dallas is set to travel south to face their biggest rivals in Houston. Let’s look at three things the Burn must do to get a result in Houston and keep El Capitán in Frisco for another season.
1) Set the tone early
Houston are coming off their biggest game in half a decade, having defeated Inter Miami (sans Messi) on Wednesday to win their second US Open Cup title and claim their first trophy since 2018. This is not the Houston team of the past few years, Ben Olsen and Hector Herrera have the Dynamo high in the Western Conference table and looking to claim one of the top 4 spots to get home field advantage in the first round. They are solid defensively, having only conceded a single goal more than FCD, while being dynamic and exciting going forward.
With all that said, even the best teams experience hangovers after a big win, especially when that happens on the road just 3 days before the next game. Dallas needs to start the game strongly, get on the front foot, go hard into challenges and don’t allow what will probably be one of the strongest crowds of Houston’s season to get behind their team early. Dallas was able to rest a number of key players in their own midweek game, a well earned draw in Philadelphia, so there should not be issues with Dallas players feeling leggy or tired. Starting poorly in this one could spell disaster.
2) Don’t get dominated in midfield
The biggest strength for the Dynamo lies in their midfield. Houston, like Dallas, typically play out of a 4-3-3 with the midfield trio being Hector Herrera, Artur and Coco Carrasquilla. Herrera is a known quantity to any soccer fan, having played the bulk of his career at the highest levels in Europe. He had a disappointing start to his MLS career in the second half of 2022 as Houston barely escaped the Wooden Spoon but has been resurgent in 2023 and is currently tied for third in the league in assists with 9 while adding 4 goals. Artur is an MLS veteran, playing most of his career in Columbus before moving over to Houston ahead of this season. He is a steady, solid defensive midfielder and has played a big role in Houston being one of the strongest sides in the league defensively. Carrasquilla, a Panamian international who won the Golden Boot in this year’s Gold Cup, is possibly the most underrated player in the league. He only has 2 goals and 3 assists in 2023 but is a key cog in Houston’s attack with his creativity.
There is a chance one of these three are rotated on Saturday. All 3 players made it to 90 minutes against Miami, with only Carrasquilla being subbed off during stoppage time. My bet would be on Artur dropping to the bench with Luis Caicedo taking his spot. Caicedo, who played in MLS previously with New England, is no slouch and there isn’t a massive drop off with him on the field. Whoever ends up playing, this will be the key battle during the game. With Facundo Quignon completely rested on Wednesday against Philadelphia and Asier Illarramendi a second half sub, the midfield trio of Facu, Illarra and Alan Velasco seems most likely for Dallas. This will be a fascinating matchup to watch with a pair of La Liga veterans in Illarra and Herrera going head to head. Dallas does not necessarily need to outright win the battle in midfield, few teams are able to do this against Houston, but they need to make it very close if not even if Dallas wants to come away with a result. Quignon will be especially important in his defensive role in dealing with Carrasquilla and Dallas will need Velasco to be on his best game to generate chances for the Dallas attack. If you pay attention to one part of the field on Saturday, look at the midfield.
3) Ride the wave
Despite what a lot of the media surrounding the league might lead you to believe, this is one of the more hotly contested rivalries in MLS. That was encapsulated perfectly in the 2022 game in Houston that was one of the wildest games I’ve ever seen. In that game, Dallas probably let a lot of their emotions get the better of them and failed to be fully focused mentally, allowing what looked to be a 2-1 win slip at the dying moments and finish 2-2. This season’s game in Houston might not be quite as crazy, the 2022 edition featured a packed house for Hector Herrera’s debut that certainly contributed to the craziness, but it will certainly have some moments that you may not see in every MLS game. Dallas will need to stay laser focused in this one. Whatever the size of the crowd, a party like atmosphere is likely with Houston and their fans riding the high of their cup win just a few days ago and if Dallas aren’t careful, things could get out of hand quickly. They need to play with fire and passion but not let their emotions get the better of them. Jesus Ferreira’s taunting of the Houston crowd in 2022 made for a lot of great photos, but I’m not sure if it was the best move for the team as a whole. If Dallas can stay locked in and manage their emotions and deal with some of the insanity the game is likely to bring, they can come away with a result and keep El Capitan where it belongs.
How are you feeling going into the Texas Derby? Will FCD retain El Capitan for another season? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: FC Dallas