Head-to-Head Breakdown: Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas

See how each team measures up to the other in different facets of the game

FC Dallas have the fifth-best defense in the league, allowing just 39 goals in the regular season, and most of that success is down to Kevin Hartman. The 37-year-old has stacked up the records in his 14-year MLS career, and after 386 appearances, he is still going strong. There's never been a better pure shot-stopper in MLS, and with two MLS Cup titles already under his belt, he's "been there, done that" across the board.

 

GOALKEEPERS

 

Even

 

The Red Bulls' occasional kamikaze defense hasn't exactly helped goalkeeper Frank Rost. But his experience has been vital down the stretch, helping the Red Bulls to record three straight shutout home wins to seal their spot in the postseason. The evergreen 38-year-old boasts great communication skills and his ability in one-on-one situations could be the difference.

The Dallas defense has been pretty solid throughout the year, but it has wobbled recently. FCD have conceded seven in their last two games, both losses, although four came against a reserve side in SJ. They are particularly weak on set pieces, conceding a league high 19 goals from set plays - coincidentally, tied with New York - which is 48 percent of all goals they have conceded this term. George John and Ugo Ihemelu have proved dependable at center back, but head coach Schellas Hyndman may be concerned with their recent struggles.

 

DEFENSE

 

Even

 

New York’s defense is the most unpredictable aspect of their team. When they show up they are majestic, but on an off-day they can be shambolic. Stephen Keel's no-nonsense ball-winning has added a steel core to New York’s defense, while Tim Ream can still bring composure and quality on the ball. With the experienced and attack-minded duo of Roy Miller and Jan Gunnar Solli at left back and right back respectively, New York’s defense looks a lot stronger, conceding just three goals in the last five games of the season.

Dallas’ midfield boasts a whole host of attacking creativity as Brek Shea and Marvin Chávez have added 17 goals and 8 assists between them. They also have the wily experience of captain Daniel Hernandez in a holding midfield role, who will battle with the scrappy pair of Rafa Márquez and Teemu Tainio. Dallas playmaker Ricardo Villar is questionable for the visit of the Red Bulls, and if he can't go on Wednesday it could prove a blow to Dallas. The Brazilian has done well to link the midfield and forward line. Shea has the unpredictability to take on players at will and his contest with Solli will be one to look out for.

 

MIDFIELD

The New York midfield is perhaps the pivotal area if they are to advance against Dallas. If the combative duo of Teemu Tainio and Rafa Márquez break up plays like they did against Philadelphia, then Dallas will struggle to get a creative flow going forward. The Red Bulls have attacking pace and flair in abundance with their flank midfielders, Joel Lindpere and winger Dane Richards. With Luke Rodgers sidelined with injury, Richards may be switched to striker with Dax McCarty filling in again on the right wing. Márquez’s switch from defense to midfield has proved invaluable, solidifying the side's defensive shape and making New York hard to break down.

The forward position has been Dallas’ Achilles heel all season long. Jackson has been a hit recently in the lone striker role, but his production is still marginal. Their fluidity of play and ability to grab goals from all areas has been a big plus however, as John, Chávez and Maicon Santos have all chipped in with valuable goals at vital moments. Yet apart from the "team offense" mantra Hyndman has applied, Dallas could be struggling if they are down to NYRB and in search of a goal. They have no go-to target forward who is a lethal finisher and this may be something that hurts them in this tie.

 

FORWARDS

This is undoubtedly the position where New York outguns Dallas. The striking options available to Hans Backe are numerous and stacked with quality. Two from Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo and Dane Richards will be selected to start. With Rodgers out, it will likely be the Jamaican flyer Richards who partners Henry up front. A focused Henry, returning from suspension, does not bode well for FC Dallas. The Frenchman finished third in the league in scoring with 14 goals. RBNY are banking on his predatory instincts to get them through this matchup.

 

Schellas Hyndman has again used all his experience to guide FC Dallas to a solid season in the West, juggling CCL responsibilities with regular season play admirably. Hyndman also has had his work cut out to protect and rest Shea as much as possible but squad rotation has been a challenge. Even without injured MVP David Ferreira and with the lack of a target forward, FCD has continued to be an attacking threat. Hyndman's tactical flexibility could prove a major factor in the single-elimination match.

 

COACH

Hans Backe has certainly had his critics this year as his side stumbled over the finishing line and into the MLS Cup playoffs. The Swede points to the Gold Cup as the biggest obstacle to New York’s progress with five key players missing. The main question Red Bull fans have of Backe is; why doesn’t Agudelo play more? The former Manchester City assistant needs to prove his managerial prowess in guiding New York far into the postseason.

Dallas’ bench is extremely strong and could be one of the factors that sees them get past New York. Having the likes of Daniel Cruz and Fabian Castillo ready to make an impact shows the strength of Hyndman’s squad. The ability to sub in fast flowing attack-minded players will be crucial.

 

BENCH

Apart from Juan Agudelo’s cameo appearances from the bench, RBNY don’t have too much to call on in reserve. Young prospects such as Matt Kassel, Corey Hertzog and John Rooney are hardly ever given a chance by Backe, who always limits the number of substitutions.

Dallas have home advantage, and that could play a huge factor in seeing them progress. However the key to this game for both teams is defense. Both sides have made poor errors throughout the year but New York seem to have sorted themselves out, whereas Dallas are going through some struggles. They need one big performance from Shea and Chávez to spearhead their attack, and an early goal will be vital to lift the home crowd.

 

OVERALL

New York have been inconsistent throughout the season, but seem to be peaking and hitting top form at just the right time. The shutout wins racked up toward the end of the year were a promising sign. They seem to have found a formula that works; it may not be attractive but it's getting results. Solid defense and a reliance on their expensively assembled offense could prove a potent recipe for success against Dallas, and the rest of the postseason field.