Tonight MLS shifts from the regular season to the postseason as two teams that could have entries in the DSM-IV face off on Fox Soccer Channel at 9 PM ET. The New York Red Bulls will try to advance to face the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend but standing in their way are the fourth place finishers in the Western Conference, FC Dallas. Both teams have been incredibly streaky and arguably backed into their playoff spots. But both also are seen as dark horse MLS Cup contenders, with Bobby McMahon picking Dallas on our MLS Talk podcast and Alexi Lalas picking New York as a contender on ESPN this weekend. One of these teams will be the first eliminated from an overflowing playoff field; who will it be? Read my take, then share your own in the comments section.
How New York Will Win the Game
Dallas has been trying to rotate players the past few weeks to juggle the CONCACAF Champions League and playoff race, but still are 1-3 in their final four MLS games and dropped out of the CCL group stage. So their current form may be enough to help a Red Bulls team that has gone 4-2-1 in their last seven matches advance. Tactically, Thierry Henry up front will pose a challenge for a shaky Dallas backline that has underperformed down the stretch. With Luke Rodgers out of the lineup, it will be up to Dane Richards to partner with Henry and put the pressure on Dallas’ central defense. Or, if Backe chooses to keep Richards in the midfield, maybe Agudelo/Henry. Regardless, the starting strikers have to make their presence felt constantly. On defense, it’s simple: if Rafa Marquez can redeem himself by helping Jan Gunnar Soli try to “contain” Brek Shea, then New York can do what they did the last time these two teams faced off and grab a victory.
How FC Dallas Will Win the Game
It’s simple: Dallas’ injuries are easier to overcome than New York’s. Dallas has ruled out David Ferreira’s return for this game, and will likely be without Ricardo Villar. But Rodgers is a major blow for New York, a team lacking depth. The key for Dallas is how Fabian Castillo and/or Marvin Chavez play. Both are speedy enough to trouble a slower New York defense, and their ability to play at their own pace could give New York fits all night. On defense, Kevin Hartman is the type of keeper you want playing for your team in the playoffs and won’t lose the game for Dallas. The home team will win if they can use their speed to abuse the slower New York defenders while not making any major mistakes on defense.
I think this will be an interesting game, but I can’t decide if it will be the best game of the playoffs or a snoozer. I can see it going either way. I think New York will struggle with a Dallas team that has a bit more health and didn’t have to travel to play this game. I expect a Brek Shea goal plus another stoppage time winner from another Dallas player, the name of which I can’t decide upon at this moment.
FC Dallas 2, New York Red Bulls 1 in stoppage time.