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PREVIEW: New York City FC vs. FC Dallas

Blues take on undefeated cowpokes in Texas tonight at 8pm ET

MLS: Atlanta United FC at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After last week’s comfortable handling of darling MLS debutants Atlanta United, team captain David Villa suggested that NYCFC were nearly in peak form. “It’s one of the best, if not the best game in our season,” he said. “I think we did almost 100 percent well.”

The team is going to need to be in peak form today when they head to Frisco, TX to tilt with the ever-charging bull of FC Dallas, the only remaining unbeaten—and arguably the best—team in Major League Soccer.

Both teams come to the field brandishing creative and exciting midfields that like to force the game’s narrative. All will be bloodied, but the integrity or lack thereof of NYCFC’s defense—which is much better this year than last, but perhaps not enough when facing a juggernaut like Dallas—might prove to be the deciding factor.

Here are three things to look for throughout the match:

NYCFC’s Defense

Since the team’s first season, it’s become exhaustingly hip for pundits to constantly harp on NYCFC’s defense. But it’s not entirely unwarranted. Everyone remembers the 7-0 nightmare at Yankee Stadium vs the Red Bulls last season. The team’s current defensive unit is aeons away from that, but even still, are prone to the occasional snafu. While they haven’t gotten blown away in any game this year, they’ve still let in 10 goals in 9 games. And with Ronald Matarrita out with a high ankle sprain, the back four are going to need to be especially organized to ward off the quick-firing Maxi Urruti of Dallas, who has six goals already this season.

By contrast, FC Dallas’s defense, led by the best CB tandem in the league in Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman, has been stifling this year, with 7 clean sheets so far, and only two games in which they’ve given up multiple goals.

MLS: FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Will Pirlo’s Locks Make An Appearance?

While defense might be the ultimate cause of death for NYCFC if they lose this game, it will only come once the midfield has been won, for this game will be a battle for control in the middle. And it will be a violent one. Dallas is sporting the future of the US and Ecuadorian national teams with Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo, and NYCFC will have the energetic and imaginative Maxi Moralez and the bruising Finn Alexander Ring. The real question will be if Vieira puts in the aging big dollar question mark Andrea Pirlo. Il Maestro hasn’t shown his wonderfully groomed beard and hair on the pitch in the last three games—but his experience and vision could be helpful against an in form Dallas.

Coach Chess Battle: Vieira vs Pareja

There’s a chance this game could go to halftime or more without a goal depending on how tight things in the midfield are, so look to see Patrick Vieira and Oscar Pareja—two master team builders in their own right—start to move things around and make changes early in the second half to try and unlock the game. If either team does manage to put one in the net early on, that might also precipitate an early change as well—to keep the game within reach.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a rare matchup. FC Dallas and NYCFC only play each other once a year in the regular season, but with the fine form both teams are in, it makes this one all the more special. The exciting and imaginative play in the midfield and the attack will surely be the visual feast of the season so far.

The game will air at 8pm ET on FS1 and Fox Deportes in the US and MLS LIVE in Canada.