FRISCO, Texas — FC Dallas may have caught a break in the 69th minute of the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal — in which they defeated RSL, 2-1, at Pizza Hut Park — when referee Kevin Stott sent RSL midfielder Javier Morales to the showers with a second yellow card.
Just like that, the defending MLS Cup champions lost one of their key offensive cogs for the final 21 minutes of the match. Worse still for RSL, Morales will now miss the second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, FSC).
WATCH: Morales sees red
The consensus is that RSL head coach Jason Kreis will plug Will Johnson in for Morales in the center of midfield, and he’s a player with whom Dallas are more than familiar.
“[Johnson] has got a little bit more of a work ethic than Morales," FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman said. "He may not have the technical ability to get the killer pass or the ability to pull people out of position to get himself free. I think Will does a very good job. He’s a two-way player that may bring us more problems. Time will tell. I know he’s a competitor and will be fighting to the end.”
In his career against FCD, Johnson has tallied one goal and one assist in six appearances against the Texas side. But Hoops captain Daniel Hernandez knows his contributions could come in more ways than just on the scoresheet.
[inline_node:322327]“Will is a guy that is going to have a lot more movement,” Hernandez said. “Of course, he’s not the player that Morales is and that definitely will hurt them. But this is professional soccer and you have guys that have to step in and do their job. Will has done well this year.”
And he’s clearly not expecting the game to be any easier just because Morales won’t be there making things happen for RSL.
“Our game plan is not going to change," Hernandez said. "It’s not going to change in there whether Morales is in there, Will Johnson or anybody else. We still have to defend as a team. I think that’s why we’re going to have success, doing those things as a team.”
Hyndman predicted RSL's midfield will look more or less the same as it did last weekend, but thought that the champs' approach would change for the second leg.
“I think you’ll see [Kyle] Beckerman just a little bit more aggressive getting forward because the game’s going to demand it," Hyndman said. "I think you’ll see [Chris] Wingert and [Robbie] Russell getting forward because the game will demand it. I think it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
But one thing Hyndman won’t do is devote extra attention to Beckerman. He'll essentially expect his players to execute a similar game plan that helped Dallas defeat the reigning MLS champions last weekend.
“What we’d like to do is replicate our game," Hyndman said. "The way we played in the second half, we’d like to do that again. I think one of the things you saw that as the game went on, it became more and more difficult for them to keep up. I think the big reason was because they were defending so much, it was hard for them to get forward and defend.”