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Hanley: Direct attack will benefit the Earthquakes against Dallas

I was able to catch the second half of the DC United-FC Dallas match the other day on the telly.  I do not know what happened in the first 45 minutes.  Well, I do know that Andre Rocha tried to cross a ball from a direct kick and it bounced in, giving FC Dallas the lead, but if the first half was anything like the last 45 minutes, I am glad I missed it.

You see, after spending a few years playing, ten years coaching professionally, and 23 years teaching kids, I have seen a lot of soccer.  8:30 am — arrive at Spartan, Robertson, or HDC, and the telly is on.  It's FSC or GolTv, or a DVD of some Lithuanian center back looking for an MLS retirement package. Training is done by 1:00 pm, but we're still in the office discussing the line up or the big Lithuanian, and your weekend opponent's last match is up on the screen — for the second time. Then, on a Friday night, it might be a drive up the 101 to see Cal State Northridge play USF. Don't forget the kids' games on the weekend.

I have seen a lot of soccer.  In an attempt here to avoid sounding like a complete soccer snob, I am glad I watched the second half of the DC/Dallas match, primarily because I don't know all these guys.   Typically, I can write this column without watching the opponent's last match — I know the players,  their strengths, their weaknesses, the team shape, etc. Well, at least I thought I did.

Against DC United, Dallas started out like this:  Dario Sala in goal, Adrian Serioux at right back, Aaron Pitchkolan and Drew Moor central, and Blake Wagner at left back in a four.  The midfield seemed to consist of Bruno Guarda as the attacking midfielder, with Pablo Ricchetti right behind him holding, with Andre Rocha on the right and Marcelo Saragosa wide left.  Most of the time, it actually looked like an odd variation on a five-man midfield because Wagner, under no pressure from DC, was allowed to play very high from his left back position. A lopsided 3-5-2 is a formation I don't see a lot! Up top, we have Kenny Cooper and Jeff Cunningham.

Schellas Hyndman probably doesn't call his set up a 4-4-2 — as a college coach, I am sure it is a 4-1-2-1-2 or something like that.  With the score 2-0 Dallas and twenty minutes to go in the match, Schellas subbed out a healthy Pitchkolan for Duilio Davino in an attempt to get Davino match minutes.  Dallas then went to four in the back, with Serioux, Davino, Moor, and Wagner.  A minute later, he brought on Dominic Oduro for Jeff Cunningham.  Ten minutes later, Adrian Serioux got hurt and Dax McCarty came on, with Moor going to right back.  Rocha then took a knock but Schellas had burned all his subs so Ricchetti went to center back and Rocha limped into midfield. Coaching point: When things are going well, don't mess around.  Use subs wisely and sparingly.  Injuries, red cards etc. can turn a 2-0 lead into a loss in moments.

Let's take a look at their players.  Dario Sala in nets is not very good. He goes to ground too early and intentionally runs into opponents on corners, looking for a foul. There isn't really anything he does well.  In defense, we will probably see Davino, which is a good thing for the Earthquakes.  He is slow, another over-valued veteran similar to Suarez at Chivas.  Adrian Seriuox is athletic, not a great passer, and is very willing to get stuck in.  Drew Moor I consider wooden.  I realize he has been called in to the US National Team once or twice but he is out of his element at that level.  Run at him!

Andre Rocha, the Brasilian, is tall and rangy, decent with the ball but will drift.  More than once I saw him in the midfield pulled way out of position. The Argentine, Ricchetti, is probably their best midfielder but does not have much quality next to him. Bruno Guardo, the SMU grad picked up from the Rapids this year, seems like the coach's favorite player. He doesn't do anything, though.

The Dallas danger guys play up top.  Jeff Cunningham is good.  He is always one pass away from scoring.  When happy, he scores goals.  Sit him on the bench, treat him like a regular roster player, and you'll lose him, as evidenced by the number of teams he's visited in his career.  When Dallas subs him for Oduro the team doesn't lose much.  Dominic is fast, very fast;   not nearly in Cunningham's class as a soccer player, but someone you have to pay attention to. Kenny Cooper joins Cunningham up top, sort of.  Cooper loves the ball and tries to put himself in a position to run at people.  He tends to drift wide, leaving Cunningham alone up top.  When he receives the ball, Cooper looks to turn and run at goal.  This is immature as he'll try it miles away from the box.

Many fans have wondered why Cooper hasn't been called up to the U.S. National Team since he's scored 15 goals so far this season, but in my opinion, he needs to play to his strengths and better understand what he is as a soccer player.   Bob Bradley plays a 4-5-1 in crucial matches, primarily to get what he considers his best eleven on the pitch. As a lone forward in this system, one has to either hold the ball up — which Brian Ching does very well — or be very fast, constantly stretching the opponent. Ching, like Brian McBride, is competent.  The word is derived from the same Latin root as "compete," but it doesn't mean that.  Competency is a  combination of skill and talent.  The two Brians understand that they have certain natural talents and both combine these talents with learned skills.  McBride and Ching, while sometimes not pretty, get the job done which ultimately allows for team success. Cooper tries to do too much: dribbling near the halfline with his head down,  losing the ball when a simple pass is the right choice.  He needs to learn how to best help his side.

Sometimes that means he may not get the goals and glory.  After watching his goal celebration in stoppage time against DC, I had to laugh. One would think the score was tied and he just got the game winner.  It was a decent goal, not a great one, against a side that was pushing forward looking to salvage something out of the match.  I could not help but think that Cooper cared more about his goal than the fact that his team was looking at three points.  After Juan Toja was sold and Kenny wasn't allowed his move overseas, I think he is playing to impress without really caring if his side goes a long way in the playoffs, but I could be way off.  Is he good?  Is he dangerous?  Yes, and the further from goal the Earthquakes can keep him, his choice or theirs, the better.

Most of the Earthquakes, while they may believe the playoffs are in reach, are actually playing for next year.  More than a few of the players are on the bubble, so to speak, and finishing the season with good individual performances may allow for a spot on next year's roster, and three points is three points so if it comes via a bit of selfish play, so be it.  For San Jose to have success in Dallas they will have to play right at the Dallas defense.  Use the width and the corners, making every attempt to isolate a striker or wide player on one of the Dallas defenders.  The middle of the park will be crowded but there isn't a lot of talent there, so unlike the Salt Lake middle where the Quakes were completely overrun, Dallas represents an opportunity to play a little.  Ronnie O'Brien, looking to impress his old side, could have a good day, as should Darren Huckerby.  If Serioux is on his side it will be a little difficult, however.  If it is Drew Moor in a four, then "Katie bar the door." (That rhyme was unintentional, really.)  Scott Sealy and Arturo Alvarez could each have a great evening if they can isolate themselves on Davino.

My keys for a result:

Shape.  Do not get caught up in Dallas and their wandering. Stay disciplined.
Pressure. Dallas does not pass the ball well, so force turnovers through hard work.
Transition.  Be sharp on the ball and get at them quickly when possession is gained.
Patience.  Trust the system — 90 minutes is a long time, so keep at it.

(Tim Hanley is a former assistant coach with the Earthquakes, Dynamo, and Galaxy, and played for the NASL Earthquakes.)