D.C. United takes on FC Dallas tomorrow, and so we decided to talk to Brian Wachholz of Big D Soccer to get the lowdown on all things Burn. For my answers to Brian's questions, head on over to our sister site.
B&RU: How has FC Dallas gotten over this year's midseason slump?
BDS: It's crazy to think about, but I realized this week that FC Dallas didn't really have a traditional spring swoon this year. The 5-game roadtrip definitely impacted the team. If you remove that block of games, however, Dallas is 9-2-3. I don't think Dallas has any noticeable slump if those road games had been evenly distributed in the schedule.
So to answer your question: they kept doing the same thing that they were doing at the beginning of the season. Mauro Diaz is the creative spark, Fabian Castillo breaks defenders ankle dribbling toward goal, and the Dallas defense quietly grinds on.
Player health is a huge talking point. For the past few seasons when talking about FCD's slumps, injury has been a common theme. This year, international call-ups have caused more missed games. My colleague, Scott, at BDS says that only 6 players have missed a match due to injury so far. At this same point last year, that number was 15. The other factor to the club's success has been the defense which hasn't raised much attention yet. Although FCD has now suffered 3 four-goal defeats in all competitions in 2015 (ugh!), Dallas is tied for 2nd in the league with 8 shutouts so far; only Kansas City has more with 9 shutouts in 2015.
B&RU: How has Matt Hedges fared this year with a new partner who is just learning center back after being a fullback for so long? Do you think he still has a chance to catch Jurgen's eye, or has that time (strangely) passed?
BDS: Matt is really doing well. He has fully embraced his role as team captain, bossing around the defense to keep the backline in order. Although Zach Loyd is not traditionally a centerback for Dallas, he did play one in college. So Loyd is familiar with the expectations of that role versus fullback, but also he knows Matt well, having been on the team together now for 4 years. Matt's passing game is improving, and I think that is a crucial point for his national team chances.
I don't know what Jurgen is thinking; there must be a method tucked inside his head for roster selection. Though, I don't think Matt's time with the USMNT is over. Either under Jurgen or with the next coach (whenever that happens), Hedges is capable of earning another cap. Matt struggled with injury briefly this year, so that could have impacted his standing in the depth chart. Since he is such a cornerstone of this FC Dallas team, I think it will take him pushing his teammates toward silverware to catch Jurgen's eye again.
B&RU: Everyone knows that D.C. United have to try and limit Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo, but who is an under the radar player they should fear?
BDS: You want the answer to this question to be a flashy striker or dangerous super-sub who can Hulk-smash a game off the bench. But honestly, it has to be Victor Ulloa. I feel like I mention him every week because he still isn't getting much attention outside of North Texas. Vic is a defensive midfielder who has been absolutely crushing it this season. He is a local kid who was signed to a homegrown contract a few years ago. The previous coach never gave him a chance, and his contract was waived. Luckily for all of us, Oscar Pareja was hired shortly there after and brought Vic back for a trial. Ulloa earned a starting spot sometime last summer and hasn't stopped running since.
The guy controls the midfield better than anyone else Dallas has had recently. He can be a big part of the reason why Mauro Diaz gets the ball to begin his magic. Vic is also part of the reason why the defense is able to perform so well at times, causing enough problems for opposing midfielders that he can win the ball or at least slow them down for Dallas defenders. Expect Ulloa to play the full 90 minutes.