Tomorrow afternoon's game between the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas is a big one for both clubs. Dallas is coming off a 3-1 loss to Chivas USA, while Houston is fresh off a 3-0 loss to ‘Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Both teams will be looking to rebound from their most recent games, and what better time for that to happen than during MLS' Rivalry Week.
The two clubs exchanged jabs this week with videos to give the match some additional hype, so we thought we'd do something similar and have a "3 Questions Exchange" with SB Nation's FC Dallas blog, Big D Soccer.
Here's some fresh perspective from Dallas on a few topics worth talking about, followed by the questions given to me. You can also catch their story on the Big D Soccer site, linked here.
Questions for Big D Soccer
Tell me about the expectations of the newest additions to Dallas. Obviously, Kenny Cooper is well known and making a return to Dallas, but Eric Hassli was also brought in as another attacking option. How do you think Dallas will use those two along with Panamanian Blas Perez?
Kenny Cooper and Eric Hassli give FC Dallas much needed depth at forward. Last season, Blas Perez was forced to miss significant playing time. FCD didn't have a replacement at the same level of Blas, and so substituions were often midfielders (like Brek Shea or Jackson Goncalves) or Home Grown Players not yet ready for MLS starting XI duty. The additions of Cooper and Hassli give the club reliable options. The goal is to get two of the three of these guys on the field at all times. Worst case scenario if two of them are unavailable for whatever reason, we can still play a 4-5-1 with a lone striker up top.
These three particular forwards are right for FC Dallas. We've seen Kenny Cooper thrive in a two striker system, so the hope is that he and Perez can really sync up to terrorize defenses. Perez is capable of playing a lone striker if need be, and Eric Hassli is versatile up top. There are now multiple outlets for David Ferriera and for our wing players to cross in to.
Dynamo fans seem to have mixed emotions about Je-Vaughn Watson's time in Houston. How did he look in his debut with the club, and what is expected from him in 2013? Is he contending for a starting position, or likely to fill a reserve role?
The technical staff worked very hard over the off-season to find the right pieces to add quality depth to our team so that we don't have to force our midfielders into striker positions like last year. Dallas fans were expecting to see Andrew Jacobson paired with Bobby Warshaw for the most part in central midfield. Je-Vaughn brings quality depth and experience to provide support in case of injury or roster rotation. I was a bit surprised to see Watson get the start in Week 1; however, Bobby is still regaining his legs after a long term injury last season. Bobby started in Week 2 against Chivas USA but was quickly subbed out in favor of Watson at halftime. To answer the question, I think it is entire up to Je-Vaughn to compete for a starting position. The midfield battle between Jacobson, Warshaw, and Watson is one of several positions that are under heavy contention this year.
Since it's rivalry week, fans across the league have held conversations about fabricated rivalries and actual rivalries based on a number of factors. Recently, a larger amount of Houston fans even have said SKC is a bigger rival for the Dynamo than Dallas at this point. How does Dallas feel about the rivalry with Houston? With the limited amount of games against each other, is this still FCD's biggest rival or is there someone else that deserves that title?
As someone who was born and raised in Dallas/Fort Worth, I can say that the animosity between DFW and Houston extends far beyond the sport of soccer. From music to tex-mex, barbecue, baseball, football, soccer, geography, traffic, and almost any other distinctive attribute that could be compared, there will always be comparisons between the two regions. Although the soccer rivalry has lost a bit of its fire as competition becomes less frequent and results more one-sided, the bitterness will always be there. We will hope that the rivalry between FCD and the Dynamo can continue to burn. Maybe as the league expands to 20 teams, Houston will be pushed back to the Western Conference. There definitively seems to be something brewing between Houston and SKC in recent years, but that is based purely on Eastern Conference playoffs. DFW and Houston will always be something more.
Questions for Dynamo Theory
How do you expect Tuesday night's elimination from the CONCACAF Champion's League will impact the team's mentality heading into the match against Dallas on Sunday?
Honestly, I think the Dynamo just want to erase Wednesday's loss from their mind as quickly as possible. A win against a rival team would be the perfect way to move past it and focus on the next goal. Santos played well and forced Houston into making a few mistakes, but from the Dynamo's point of view, all three goals were preventable which is frustrating.
With a quick turnaround for the Rivalry Week game against Dallas, they have the opportunity to come on the road and get a huge result. Not only to erase the feeling left behind from the Santos loss, but it's important for the Dynamo to get results on the road early in the season and rebound from a rough road season last year.
I'd look for Houston to come out hungry for an early goal and focused on limiting mistakes. No game this early is a "must win," but after a tough loss, there's nothing better to cure the hangover than a win (and against Dallas is a plus).
How is the partnership between Will Bruin and Giles Barnes improving the Houston Dynamo offense?
At this point, I don't think it is. That doesn't mean that thing's won't improve and the offense will start clicking, but right now it's stagnant. We saw Will Bruin last year struggle in the 4-3-3 as a lone striker, and this season we've seen Houston line up in a 4-4-1-1 with Barnes playing a more free roaming forward. Barnes wants his freedom and that's his strong point, but Bruin feeds off of his partner up top. You'll notice when Bruin has a partner to work off of, he's able to be more productive on the stat sheet.
Don't get me wrong, Bruin is still contributing to the offense with off the ball work and a number of other factors. But a guy like this is someone you build around, not limit. I think we'll see Dominic Kinnear change some things up if the outcome remains similar, but it's also possible the two start producing with more games under their belt. After all, we're one league game in.
We'll give it some time, but it's possible Houston could shift Barnes into an attacking midfield role once Omar Cummings is completely healthy. In all honesty, this could happen Sunday with Cummings available for selection.
Brian Ching has made statements this week that it is difficult to maintain the intensity of the rivalry when the two clubs only meet once per season. Do you think the club veterans are able to educate the team's incoming players about the rivalry between the soccer clubs and also the overall sporting bitterness between Dallas and Houston?
I doubt many would disagree with Ching's comments. It's hard to keep a rivalry at the top of its game when it's only played once a year.
Sure, I think the veterans can come in and educate the younger players on the importance of the Dallas rivalry, but I think teams have to have those emotional players that stand out in two rival teams. When Houston had Eddie Robinson, Craig Waibel, and Brian Mullan - those guys play with their hearts on their sleeve. Dallas had Pescadito Ruiz and Dario Sala that made this rivalry fun. I think the only player that Houston probably doesn't enjoy playing against is Jair Benitez, but I don't think there is anyone on the Dynamo that Dallas would see in a similar light.
In all honesty, I think the fans are what make the rivalry. I think the players recognize that and both teams want to make the fans happy - give the fans some bragging rights over the other.
Thankfully for my side, we've been on the bragging side more often.
BONUS: Tell me which player may make the most impact that FC Dallas fans may not know about.
Even though I mentioned Giles Barnes and Will Bruin struggling, I have to say Barnes here. He has a full preseason with the Dynamo and has been in great form so far. Kinnear brought him over to Houston for a reason and this is his year to prove his worth. What better way to start than in the Texas Derby against FC Dallas.
Big thank you to Big D Soccer and Brian for the exchange. Always good to get the other side's perspective on things.