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Midfield holds the key to beating Dallas

How big is the Buck Shaw factor? At this point, with the Earthquakes struggling to find the back of the net and to keep the opponents ball out of their own, they need every ounce of support they can muster. I didn't write life support, they're not there yet. There are plenty of matches left, but…

Sometimes as a method of analysis it is fun to break down a team position by position and compare the players to your own. Looking at the FC Dallas line-up, they have advantages over the Earthquakes in a few areas. We know Joe Cannon is miles better then Dario Sala, but FCD's midfield is way ahead of the Quakes' central players at this point. With the exception of Ramiro Corrales and an inspired (I hope) Ronnie O'Brien, Dallas has much more quality.

Juan Toja is the connector and will run the show. He has a great work rate, gets up and down the pitch, and doesn't mind throwing a few tackles in as well. He gets cover behind from Pablo Ricchetti and Marcelo Saragosa. Ricchetti may not be healthy, which would bring either Andre Rocha or Aaron Pitchkolan onto the pitch, and Saragosa doesn't pass well, but Toja, Saragosa, and Ricchetti form a little triangle in the middle with Toja getting as much freedom as he needs. San Jose plays like a diamond with Ramiro sitting in, Grabavoy higher and underneath the strikers. Dallas favors five in the midfield, with Dax McCarty and either Ricardinho or Rocha playing wide. McCarty has come a long way as a player and while he is apt to make a mistake or two defending, he more than makes up for it with his attacking skills. McCarty also takes some of the set pieces and has been very effective to date.

Up top, Dallas has one of the better MLS big men in Kenny Cooper. He is a horse, works hard, and plays with great enthusiasm. One can only hope FCD coach Steve Morrow changes his lineup and pushes Cooper wide, something he has done in the past, which basically kills off Cooper's effectiveness. Good in the air, decent feet, Cooper will be difficult to contain on Saturday. Arturo Alvarez has also come a long way in the last few years. He's still very much left footed but has a better sense of deception now and loves to shoot. Like Brad Davis of Houston, Arturo has a great 'snake' move that I am sure we'll see at some point. Arturo loves to go forward and rarely works back to defend. We may see Dominic Oduro come on late in the match for Alvarez if Morrow keeps things the same. Oduro is very fast, a little train wreck fast but nevertheless dangerous. Dallas in their last match created chances but failed to get shots on target. I am sure Morrow had them in front of goal in training this week.

With Dallas playing a 3-5-2, the midfield will be crowded, and any unnecessary dribbling will be punished immediately. Against this formation the space to attack is just behind their wide players. With a makeshift back line I can't imagine San Jose playing out of the back with confidence. so in order to get into those vulnerable spaces the Quakes need to get a little rhythm through possession followed by one or two quick passes. "In to out" I call it: Find a forward player (which may mean a little long ball), Dallas collapses a little, then push the ball wide, either in front of the Dallas wide players or, more dangerously, behind them and into the channels if they have strayed too far forward. Dallas has Drew Moor on one side, Davino in the middle of the three like a sweeper and Adrian Serioux on the left. (If Serioux is injured maybe Pitchklan replaces him.) Moor is wooden and can be beat, so the Quakes should run at him. Duilio Davino needs to be occupied, and one way to do that is to get Kamara to stand on him, forcing Moor or Serioux to slide over. Serioux is athletic but not a defender by trade, and is sometimes careless with the ball. The key here is for the Quakes to isolate their defenders whenever possible. Ideally, you can force their 3-5-2 into a 5-3-2, which is really what that formation is, and then be patient, keep your shape so they don't counter.

Dallas does not mind playing away from home and can score. In the past they would sit in and counter but now they play pretty much the same week to week. They seem to know each other now.

Back to the Buck Shaw factor. San Jose must get results at home. The crowd will be a factor, maybe more so than at anytime this season. The Earthquakes are undermanned in this one, and must outwork Dallas. The fans can have a positive effect in driving the players on, keeping them inspired to make one more run.

My keys:

Communication from Cannon, Corrales, and Nick Garcia, to organize.
Shape, Shape, Shape. Frustrate Dallas into venturing too far forward, taking risks.
Expose Dallas backline, isolate their defenders one on one, through quick counters.
Set plays. Could be the difference both for and against.

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