It's MLS Round Five, and the New England Revolution are facing FC Dallas for their fourth match of the young 2013 season at Gillette Stadium. Home is a great place to be for the Revs when they're facing Dallas, as their 23-12-3 all-time record against the Hoops is buttressed by a 12-5-1 mark at home, including an 8-1-1 posting at Gillette.
Today's Q&A is with Brian Wachholz of Big D Soccer, SB Nation's FC Dallas blog.
TBM: It's early days, but the Hoops are topping the Western Conference table. What's been the secret to success in the first four matches?
BW: J E L L O. This team is gelling together like it's 2010 all over again (or the 2013 Red Bulls). There is a strong core of players from 2011 that is coming together with new transfers into the club. Our transfers have all added depth or addressed needs that this club suffered from last season (i.e., lack of forwards). I haven't been in the locker room personally, but reports from the team are that there is a really good vibe. This squad is having fun at the end of the day.
If I were to add anything else to that, it would be that our defense has really stepped up its game. The squad is still working out kinks from changing goalkeepers; however, FCD has gotten through a couple of games without conceding as many goals late in the second half as last year. It's still not perfect. The team is making steady progress though, and that is something to be excited about.
TBM: Kenny Cooper's homecoming must have been a big deal, but it seems like he's struggling to make an impact. Do you think he'll be able to recapture the ridiculous scoring form he once had in Dallas, or was re-acquiring him a mistake?
BW: Absolutely Kenny will find that spark. Even though Cooper has a long history with Dallas, this is not the same team that he left in 2009. I think it takes a bit of time for any new player to gel with new teammates, so I'm not worried about his slow start to 2013. If you look at past seasons, you can see that FC Dallas as a club overall tends to start slowly. It's no surprise, then, to see Kenny take a few games to fully acclimate.
TBM: Three wins is a good look, but Dallas' only loss came on the road, and you'll be on the road in New England. Plus, you'll be playing in temperatures that probably seem relatively cold to Texans like yourselves. How do you foresee the team handling the elements, and do you think the early-season away loss will be an indication of the squad's away form for the rest of the season?
BW: I think the loss to Chivas USA was a fluke - at least in the way that the team lost. I think a few wins are bolstering confidence levels. I believe FC Dallas will be heading north to New England a bit better prepared mentally than when the team traveled to LA. I don't expect the cold to be an overwhelming issue. This is Texas, and our weather abruptly spikes up and down this time of year. This past week has been similar temperature to what is expected Saturday in Foxboro - highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s. Now coming from New England to Texas in August... that's a different story.
TBM: Even though he went into an extended slump, it still must be pretty tough to replace a guy like Brek Shea. Who's shouldering the creative load on the wings since he left?
BW: Jackson and Fabian Castillo are picking up where Brek Shea left off. Dallas is strong on the wings as a team. Along with our midfielders, Dallas fullbacks Jair Benitez and Zach Loyd move forward to get in on the attack also. As much as Brek did for this team, he is still one player. Our flank players are very capable of stretching out the game from sideline to sideline no matter the starting XI.
TBM: Let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
BW: 1-0 to FC Dallas. We have a good possibility of seeing a 0-0 tie game if FCD's offense struggles; however I think FCD is going to arrive in Foxboro pushing for goals. I expect we'll see Raul Fernandez back in goal after posting a shutout to Chile in CONMEBOL WCQ. Dallas backline will be Jair Benitez, Matt Hedges, George John, and Zach Loyd. Dallas midfield may consist of Andrew Jacobson, Michel, and Jackson - with Kenny Cooper and Blas Pérez up top.