For a man who can make his sides play magic football throughout a season, Oscar Pareja has yet to prove himself on another level: the playoffs.
The goal from day one in Frisco has been to make the postseason. It is here, and welcomed with open arms. Despite the tag of playing in a play-in playoff match, FCD doesn’t find many welcome opponents in the Western Conference.
Most of this is the attacking prowess Pareja has brought to Frisco. In fact, Dallas hasn’t been shut out at home save twice in 2014, the last coming last week against the Timbers. A side that can throw numbers forward can be very dangerous in a playoff scenario, if not at least unpredictable.
Admittedly, last weeks scoreless performance against Portland was a drab affair for the casual fan. It was outright incendiary, with at least one legitimate goal called back, for the die hard supporter. But the result was worrying.
For one, FCD enters the playoffs on a loss. They lost in terms of chances produced and shots on goal, and truthfully only played half a match. The second half was far cry from the first, with FCD setting up a tempo with some pace, but not with enough teeth in the Portland box. In fact, Portland’s second goal was the product of hefty numbers drifting forward, frustrated repeatedly by a determined Timbers defense.
If Portland’s defense was determined, Vancouver’s should be seen as stubborn to a fault. Six and a half hours of scoreless soccer have elapsed for Whitecaps opposition to this point. It doesn’t bode well for Dallas, but similarly stingy defenses have been unlocked by Oscar Pareja.
It’s really the unpredictability of a playoff match that makes the Whitecaps menacing. Do the Whitecaps of early 2014 show, only to outpace and outscore Dallas in a shootout. Does the recent embodiment of Vancouver step onto the pitch and shutout FCD?
Carl Robinson’s squad, despite its Jekyll-and-Hyde nature for the majority of the season, has plenty of threats. Pedro Morales is capable of running any midfield in MLS; Matias Laba provides the menace to allow Morales to drift forward freely. Darren Mattocks isn’t the rookie sensation he once was, but it is a less than desirable activity to mark a man who is probably just as comfortable on a soccer field as he is on the running track. Most recently, new acquisitions Mauro Rosales and Sebastian Fernandez have unlocked Dallas with ease. Rosales has three assists in two games against FCD, whereas Fernandez has two goals, both coming in the last clash.
Furthermore, Dallas hasn’t shut out Vancouver in 2014. In fact, Dallas could be seen as very fortunate to get the 2-2 draw back in July at BC Place. If it wasn’t for an immense momentary lapse of reason and a flailing arm from Carlyle Mitchell two goals would have been unachievable.
Yet FCD is at home, which has been a fortress in 2014. Only four losses have stained the Toyota Stadium pitch. Goals have dropped en masse: 33 to be precise. Vancouver doesn’t score much outside of British Columbia, either, claiming only 15 goals in 2014. That’s less than a goal per match.
But somehow Pat Ousted leads MLS in shutouts. That is no slight against him – it’s just unbelievable considering the lack of shutouts to beginning of Vancouver’s season. And that is where a lucky chance, well-taken corner, or surgical free kick can make all the difference for Vancouver. If they have a way of stunting Fabian Castillo, Blas Perez, and Andres Escobar, there will a more than a glimmer of hope for the Canadians tonight.
FCD’s wild card is their passion, which has been unmatched at many points in 2014. On the field there have been matches that come to mind as uninspired. In Frisco, there may simply be none. Given the passion purveying Pareja’s starting XI and bench, even a resolute and league-leading defense may not be able to weather that storm. Papi has shown that he can build a playoff team: the time is certainly nigh for a bigger, grander declaration.
(image courtesy of AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)