Dallas Soccer: Match Report

FC Dallas earns tough win at home against Toronto

May, 12, 2011
A Daniel Hernandez penalty kick in first half stoppage time provided all the scoring FC Dallas would need to turn back Toronto FC 1-0 Wednesday night at Pizza Hut Park.

Hernandez’ excellent service from a free kick instigated the penalty kick when George John was brought down by Toronto defender Adrian Cann. Hernandez stepped to the penalty spot and notched his first MLS goal since 2002.

FC Dallas failed to score in the run of play against one of the poorer defenses in MLS. Clearly, FC Dallas is trying to find an answer to the departure of injured league MVP David Ferreira. Off-season acquisition Andrew Jacobson was the latest experiment for coach Schellas Hyndman to fill the gaping void.

But Dallas was consistently let down in the attacking third as players failed to make runs into the box. Several good services were simply turned away by a Toronto defense that saw little pressure from the crucial runs.

The attacking mood for Dallas improved a bit in the final 15 minutes of the first half when Dallas finally switched into a diamond 4-4-2 with Fabian Castillo and Marvin Chavez providing duties up top. But Castillo and Chavez inability to hold up the ball under pressure negated their blazing speed for much of the second half as Toronto held onto the ball and easily turned back Dallas counter-attack opportunities. It’s unfortunate for Dallas, because the questions of whether Hernandez can provide the range necessary for attacking and defending out of this formation remains largely unanswered. The question of who can provide the answer to the attacking midfielder role also remains in doubt.

While Dallas has provided 2 wins and a scoreless tie in the three matches without Ferreira, the dearth of goals- just three in those three matches- remains a huge concern. It’s disappointing that Eric Avila has only cemented himself in his role as super-sub and not the answer to Dallas problems. While the results are positive, goals have to be scored to win soccer matches. Dallas inability to score from the run of play will certainly haunt them if the trend continues.

On a more positive note, the Dallas defense was a force last night, limiting Toronto to a serious of long-distance speculative shots. Kevin Hartman was rarely tested and once again proved to be up to the task. Centerbacks George John and Ugo Ihemelu had perhaps their best match together on the year as they thwarted Toronto aspirations.

Perhaps the best news for Dallas is the stretch of four matches in just 14 days should provide plenty of opportunity to work out the kinks in their attack. It is a huge positive that this club seems to be like last years in that they never seem to stop working. They’ll need to keep that never-say-die attitude as they continue to adjust to Ferreira’s absence.

Time will certainly tell, but May may be be the Month of Answers for FC Dallas.

Vancouver v FC Dallas - Match Grades

April, 24, 2011
"How many licks to the center of a Toosie Pop"?
"How many kicks to David's leg before it snaps?"

Not sure about the former, but the latter proved to be a whole bunch over the course of about a season and a half worth of matches. David is one durable cat, but it was going to happen sooner or later.

Before the discussion of Ferreira's situation, the harsh reality was that FC Dallas was putting forth its worst performance of the 2011 campaign right up to that sad moment.

From the kickoff Dallas was largely on its back foot as another Northwest Soccer Crowd filled up the stadium with atmosphere and support for an energetic Vancouver side. Hyndman's troops struggled at all aspects of the game and could not retain possession for any serious stretch of time. With Castillo horribly miscast as the lone striker, Dallas had no one holding the ball up high allowing for a build up for attack.

Shea and Chavez both, whether due to travel fatigue or the poorly installed Field Turf pitch, struggled to penetrate and complete passes. Hernandez and Jacobson worked hard to plug holes as the Whitecaps decided that a direct, long ball style was their best approach. Overall the midfield simply could not create much of anything and a large part of that was due to Castillo being all but invisible for the first 45 minutes.

After Ferreira's departure, Dallas seemed to regain some emotion and seriously began to push back and find that the Whitecaps as a team looked to be on different tactical pages. Dallas was essentially a three wheeled car for the final 35 minutes or so, they did find a way to win the match, but it was never pretty or anything Hyndman is going to want to latch onto (other than the "guts" part, but FCD has always had that under Schellas).

As for the Ferreira tackle: Leathers is only guilty of committing the same tackle you see in leagues all over the world every match. Guy gets beat, guy works to cover, guy lunges from behind to poke a ball away and in the process takes out the opponent's legs. Just in this instance, the toe of David's shoe gets stuck in the turn and his foot stays vertical while the rest of him turns. You know the rest.

The reality is that is by FIFA's "Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees" what Leather's was guilty of is, or should have been, was, "Serious Foul Play".
A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as
serious foul play. Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the
ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with
excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.

Referees in leagues all over the globe rarely call this exact tackle anything more than a foul. Leather's did touch the ball, but that isn't supposed to matter. The Law of the Game are explict in that direction. The problem is that the punishment of ejection is such a game changer, referees won't red card tackles from behind because of the fallout. Ferreira receives this foul at least twice a match, and maybe the guilty party gets a yellow 25% of the time.

Unfortunately the law of averages finally turned against David this time and for it, he will be out for a considerable stretch of time with a double fracture (tibia and fibula).

Much like a lot that is wrong with officiating in soccer, there are plenty of proper laws in place, FIFA and their officials just need to enforce them by the letter of the law. Eventually the players will make the changes needed to fall in line and the sport will be far better for it.

Grades:(5 is an average performance, 10 is a world-class mindbender. Please note in my system, each player is held to a different standard based on their experience, position and expectation. ie: a Luna grade of "5" is likely different that a Milton grade of "5".)

Hartman: 6 - Dallas is really going to need his vocal leadership

Jackson: 5 - Was woefully poor in the 1st half, but his attacking style was important in the 2nd half

John: 8 - Continues to do little things that make average defenders turn into great defenders

Ugo: 4 - Another match he loses out for a header that becomes a goal, and looked shaky in other key moments. Is he struggling with his recovery?

Benitez: 6 - Like Jackson, he was key to comeback, actually impressive as a midfielder

Chavez: 5 - Simply not effecting matches as much as that position needs to and if team switches to 4-4-2, will that help/hurt him?

Hernandez: 5 - The middle of the park continues to struggle

Jacobson: 5 - See above

Ferreira: 4 - Harsh, yes, but the PK miss was shameful and before that it was another match David really struggled to find his space

Shea: 5 - Looked very rusty at midfield, but oddly comfortable at right back later in the match

Castillo: 3 - Not sure why Hyndman tried to force this fit.


Avila: 8 - Another heroic late match winner. But the kid is going to have to put in an effective 90 minutes to be more than a super sub. Unfortunately, he may get a shot to prove he can

Milton: 7 - A very large part of why team settled as he worked hard to help with possession, but his lack of speed is really hurting him and the side in the final third

Alexander: 6 - Still think this kid can help his team. So calm and poised on the ball.

Match: "B+" - The Ferreira drama alone was compelling, but FC Dallas' fight back was a bloody, ugly three points for the good guys.

Ed note: Grades are for entertainment purposes only. Do not take them to heart, personally or otherwise. If you don’t like the grades may we suggest instead of only calling the author names and bein’ an anonymous meanie, how about you put your grades and explanation in the comment section below. After doing that, then you can then call the author names and remain anonymous, you just won’t be a meanie. Discourse is good for the soul.

Portland v FC Dallas - Match Grades

April, 18, 2011
Sunday's FC Dallas' 3-2 loss in Portland tells us a few things:

1) Jeld-Wen Field is going to a beast of a place for any opponent
2) Dallas' win over the Rapids was the exception to their short season
3) The narrow confines of that pitch really effected Dallas negatively

Flat out admiration for Soccer City, USA. That is how a home soccer crowd should look and that is what the fan/club relationship should be. The Timber Joey goal celebration is wonderful and the whole thing makes me, "want to go to there".

Dallas has now played five matches and the one that doesn't belong with the others is the 3-0 win over the Rapids. Not only did Dallas play well that night, their opponent played their worst match of the season. When you put that into context to the rest of the season, suddenly that win doesn't taste as good. The Portland loss highlights several of the continuing concerns that have appeared in other matches topped by an overall feeling the team is simply struggling to find their chemistry in the attack.

The biggest factor in Portland's success of controlling Dallas was the narrow confines of the Jeld-Wen pitch. At a stated 110x70 yards (and I swear it looks smaller) the Timbers were able to stay compact and Dallas couldn't get wide enough. Width is such an major part of Dallas' tactical plan removing it is like losing a key starter.

Sure, FCD fans should be proud of their team's continued fight to almost grab three points, but let's also temper that with the fact that Portland is an expansion team largely made up of other MLS side rejects, but more importantly a team playing on only three days rest compared to Dallas' week plus. Portland just ran out of gas and Dallas almost capitalized on it. Frankly I'm not sure that if Dallas had pulled of the tie, it wouldn't have been an unfair result for the Timbers who used their field and passionate energy to their advantage.

Next up, another fantastic voyage as Dallas ventures to Vancouver to find their first road points in what will likely be another great atmosphere.

Grades: (5 is an average performance, 10 is a world-class mindbender. Please note in my system, each player is held to a different standard based on their experience, position and expectation. ie: a Luna grade of "5" is likely different that a Milton grade of "5".)

Hartman: 5 - Largely let down by the group in front

Loyd: 3 - Still repeatedly caught losing his mark in the box and why Jackson likely will return to starting

John: 5 - A couple of spotty moments, but several more that showed he's on his way to a full return and more

Ugo: 4 - Shamefully allowed Kenny to beat him on the header and won't want to watch the replay of the 3rd goal

Shea: 6 - Hard to grade considering the last 10 minutes was so different from the first 80, but +1 for the run and finish

Chavez: 3 - Just not having the impact the pre-season promised

Castillo: 3 - First disappointing showing and should learn quickly that tricks will quickly lose their effectiveness

Hernandez: 4 - A serious drop off from last week's performance

Jacobson: 4 - Can everyone stop stamping him as Dax's replacement? He's got lots to prove and Sunday didn't help

Ferreira: 5 - The last 7 minutes rescued what was overall a poor showing

Milton: 2 - Largely absent and on the one solid chance, he blew it. The leash has to be getting tighter and tighter for both Milton and Schellas


Jackson: 7 - Had an immediate impact against tired Timbers
Benitez: 6 - Interesting to see how/why Hyndman keeps him on bench
Galindo: 6 - Nice impact, but last moment shot was a wasted opportunity. Note that Ruben did not get this call

Ed note: Grades are for entertainment purposes only. Do not take them to heart, personally or otherwise. If you don’t like the grades may we suggest instead of only calling the author names and bein’ an anonymous meanie, how about you put your grades and explanation in the comment section below. After doing that, then you can then call the author names and remain anonymous, you just won’t be a meanie. Discourse is good for the soul.

FC Dallas falls short in comeback at Portland

April, 17, 2011
The Portland Timbers stormed out to a 3-0 lead over FC Dallas before two late goals provided for an exciting finish, but left Dallas wondering after they eventually fell 3-2 on Sunday afternoon at Jeld Wen field.

Portland opened the scoring in the 13th minute as a quickly taken set-piece caught Dallas flat-footed. Jack Jewsbury found room inside the 18-yard box and banged a shot off the post that deflected off the back of Kevin Hartman for the unlikely first score. Portland struck again in the 35th minute as former FC Dallas man Kenny Cooper’s header from a corner pushed the surging Timbers in front 2-0. The Timbers final score of the day was provided by Rodney Wallace in the 53rd minute, as he came free in the box on a feed from Kalif Alhassan.

The match looked effectively over for the Men in Stripes, but two late goals and some controversy provided an exciting closure to the match. First, David Ferreira scored from a feed from Brek Shea in the 83rd minute. Then just three minutes later, Shea hit the back of the net on his own. A late missed handball inside the penalty area, plus several frantic goal mouth scrambles will leave Dallas wondering if they should not have come away with a point in this match.

It was an unfortunate end to a very unfortunate match for FC Dallas, whose play on the day was never horrible. In fact, in the first half, Dallas looked to be the better team on all but two chances. But poor luck and a mental error conspired to cause them to chase the match early, a very poor way to have to play in a stadium with such loud and inspired supporters.

There is very little for Dallas to take home positive from this match. Sure, the comeback was valiant. The determination to come back and keep fighting is commendable. It was the never-say-die attitude of the 2010 team that led to such accomplishments as the 19-match unbeaten streak and a berth in the MLS Cup. But this is 2011, and mental errors and uneven form have led to a very shaky start to the season.

It was the things that Dallas did not do in this match that were more troublesome. First of all, Dallas inability to keep a 20 year-old third-string goalkeeper under pressure is inexcusable. A well-rested Dallas was never able to impose their will on a Timbers team working on only three days’ rest. Falling asleep on a free kick is another team mistake that cost them dearly. And even though Dallas controlled possession throughout the first half, they could not make Portland pay. Despite the comeback, it was a less-than-stellar day at the office.

So the slow Dallas start continues. Surely, more changes in the lineup are coming for next week’s matchup against Vancouver in another stadium that will be loud and raucous. One has to wonder if the ineffective Milton Rodriquez has seen his last days as a starter for a while. Schellas Hyndman showed in this match he is willing to place Fabian Castillo up top alone. Could Shea make his return to left mid with Jair Benitez assuming his old role at left back?

Designing hypothetical lineups are the task of wannabe managers who believe they have answers Hyndman does not see. I am not quite so bold. My question is much simpler: When will we see the composed, mentally tough club that imposed its will on opponents time and again in 2010? We saw glimpses of it in the Colorado match against a team who checked out barely after kickoff. It is not likely to be the case in Vancouver.

Which Dallas team will step on their field for FC Dallas? Unfortunately, it will take a week to find out.
FC Dallas Reserves defeated the Colorado Rapids Reserves 1-0 Saturday on the adidas field at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

Just as in Friday’s first team match, FC Dallas struck in the first minute of the second half. Following the kick off, Maykel Galindo found the ball at his feet while streaking through the Colorado back line. In a foot race with a defender on his left side, Galindo volleyed a shot with his right foot that beat Colorado goalkeeper Steward Ceus high over his left shoulder for a 1-0 lead.

FC Dallas Reserves (2-0-0) next match is against Real Salt Lake Reserves (0-1-0) on Sunday, May 22 on the Pizza Hut Park Stadium Field.

Scoring Summary:
DAL – Maykel Galindo 46

FC Dallas – Chris Seitz (Josh Lambo 46), Jackson, Bobby Warshaw, Victor Ulloa, Moises Hernandez, Bryan Leyva, Bruno Guarda, Eric Alexander (Peri Marosevic 71), Andrew Wiedeman, Ricardo Villar, Maykel Galindo (Jonathan Top 88).
Substitutes Not Used: Josh Lambo, Richard Sanchez, Jack Coleman, Mike Ambrose.

Colorado Rapids – Steward Ceus, Danny Earls, Scott Palguta, Tyrone Marshall (Josh Janniere 60), Mike Holody, Steven Emory, Wells Thompson, Ross LaBauex (Dillion Serna 76), Davy Armstrong, Quincy Amarikwa (Sanna Nyassi 76), Andre Akpan

Substitutes Not Used: James Rogers, Ian Joyce.

Misconduct Summary:
COL – Tyrone Marshall (caution; reckless tackle) 51
DAL – Bruno Guarda (caution; persistent infringement) 57
DAL – Jackson (caution; delay of game) 72

Referee: Fernando Galvan
Referee’s Assistants: Jonathan Johnson, David Amastae
4th Official: Jorge Luna
Weather: Windy, 77 degrees

FC Dallas clobbers old Cup foe Colorado

April, 9, 2011
David Ferreira’s brace led the way as FC Dallas demolished defending MLS Cup Champions Colorado Rapids 3-0 Friday night before 12,261 at Pizza Hut Park. It was the first win of the 2011 campaign for Dallas, while Colorado suffered their first defeat.

Colorado was forced to play the match without Pablo Mastroeni and Conor Casey, both out with injuries.

Ugo Ihemelu opened the scoring in just the 26th minute from a flick-on header from Marvin Chavez, who suffered a concussion and would leave the match on a stretcher. Ihemelu was left wide open and banged the ball into the side of the net for the first Dallas goal since opening night.

David Ferreira would score the next two for FC Dallas in a display that announced his return to 2010 form. In the 40th minute, Fabian Castillo’s excellent through ball freed Ferreira for a one-on-one with goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Ferreira’s cheeky fake and subsequent chip over the sprawling Pickens made the score 2-0. Then, just after the restart for the second half, a Daniel Hernandez through-ball sprang Eric Avila, whose cross across the mouth of goal was banged in by Ferreira to provide the final score.

It was a return to the free-flowing, open football FC Dallas fans grew accustomed to in the 2010 season. Colorado, without Mastroeni to police midfield, was constantly pulled out of shape by the ever-moving Dallas attack. The match was actually not as close as the score indicated. Were it not for two excellent Pickens saves in the first half, the score could have easily been 5-0 or worse. This was a total and complete dismantling of the Rapids.

This match surely provides hope and encouragement that this club is back on track. It’s amazing what this team is capable of when they keep their composure and all 11 men on the field for a match. The free-flowing, pace-pushing attack Dallas provides when at full-strength was missing for two of the first three matches Dallas played due to dumb red cards suffered, leaving Dallas to play at full strength for just 92 minutes. What a change this match was.

A key ingredient to the improvement was Brek Shea’s insertion at left back. Removing him from the center of the pitch to deal with onrushing forwards allowed the young player to play a more familiar role, albeit from a slightly deeper position. Surely bad news for Jair Benitez, Head Coach Schellas Hyndman may have found the chemistry in the back line he’s been searching for. Hyndman clearly wants Shea on the field somewhere. Fabian Castillo’s performance at left wing further solidified his hold on the position, while Hyndman won’t likely tinker with a back four that produced Dallas’ first clean sheet of the season. It will surely be some time before we see Benitez on this pitch again.

Although a huge concern and worry, the concussion suffered by Chavez will now provide yet another opportunity for Erica Avila to stake his place in the starting lineup. Avila’s ability to create and get forward into the attack could allow Dallas to mitigate the loss of Chavez, keeping the Dallas attack dangerous through both wings, where Dallas must succeed in order to play the type of football they desire.

Dallas next travels to the Pacific Northwest to face two expansion teams, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Kenny Cooper, Jr. led Portland Timbers. Two contests against much weaker opponents than even the injury-plagued Rapids should provide Dallas with their first opportunity for this year’s first win streak. Two wins would go a very long way in erasing the misery of the season’s opening and could provide further evidence of what this year’s edition is capable of.

Attendance: 12,261

Scoring Summary:
DAL – Ugo Ihemelu (Marvin Chavez) 26
DAL – David Ferreira (Fabian Castillo) 40
DAL – David Ferriera (Eric Avila, Daniel Hernandez) 46

FC Dallas – Kevin Hartman, Brek Shea, Ugo Ihemelu, George John, Zach Loyd, Fabian Castillo, David Ferreira, Andrew Jacobson (Eric Alexander 70), Daniel Hernandez, Marvin Chavez (Eric Avila 30), Milton Rodriguez (Ruben Luna 66).

Substitutes Not Used: Chris Seitz, Bobby Warshaw, Maykel Galindo, Ricardo Villar.

TOTAL SHOTS: 14 (David Ferreira 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Ferreira 3); FOULS: 12 (Eric Alexander 2, Daniel Hernandez 2); OFFSIDES: 0; CORNER KICKS: 8 (David Ferreira 8); SAVES: 0 (Kevin Hartman 0)

Colorado Rapids – Matt Pickens, Kosuke Kimura, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, Anthony Wallace (Tyrone Marshall 63), Joseph Nane, Jeff Larentowicz, Jamie Smith, Sanna Nyassi (Brian Mullan 46), Omar Cummings, Caleb Folan (Quincy Amarikwa 61).

Substitutes Not Used: Steward Ceus, Andre Akpan, Scott Palguta, Wells Thompson.

TOTAL SHOTS: 5 (Quincy Amarikwa 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 0; FOULS: 16 (Sanna Nyassi 4); OFFSIDES: 1 (Caleb Folan 1); CORNER KICKS: 1 (Jamie Smith 1); SAVES: 4 (Matt Pickens 4)

Misconduct Summary:
DAL – Andrew Jacobson (caution; reckless tackle) 13
COL – Sanna Nyassi (caution; persistent infringement) 19
COL – Caleb Folan (caution; reckless foul) 33
COL – Anthony Wallace (caution; reckless tackle) 52
COL – Omar Cummings (caution; reckless foul) 81
COL – Drew Moor (caution; reckless tackle) 84
DAL – Daniel Hernandez (caution; dissent) 90

Referee: Paul Ward
Referee’s Assistants: Joe Fletcher, Anthony Vasoli
4th Official: Armando Villarreal
Time of Game: 1:53
Weather: Sunny, 86 degrees


FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman

We played very well tonight. Our high level of pressure caused Colorado problems. It was a great performance. The team is getting better each week. At the same time, I also think Colorado is a better team than last year.

On if he is relieved by the result

Of course it is – it’s a relief for all of us. Our expectations are high. We’ve had two center backs that were injured. Having Ugo [Ihemelu] and George [John] back there is a relief.

On Andrew Jacobson’s first start of the season

AJ did very well. He was that connecting piece we have been missing. He had a good first performance.

On Fabian Castillo

Colorado is a championship team. To see them struggling to stop Fabian says a lot about his potential. He brings more speed to the game and improves the team.
FC Dallas midfielder Eric Avila

When I got the nod to come in, I just wanted to continue to attack and keep up that energy we were playing with. It was an unfortunate situation, coming in for someone who gets injured. You never want to see that, but when you get an opportunity you need to take it.

On his assist

It was great, getting my first touch of the second half like that. I made the run and fortunately Daniel [Hernandez] saw me take off and he put a ball right on my foot. I wanted to draw the goalkeeper to the near post and then I saw David [Ferreira] making that run to the back post. I just hit it as hard as I could at the back post.
FC Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu

All week we really focused on finding our identity. Last season, we’d come out and put a lot of pressure on the other team, play in their half. We came back with that mentality this game and it paid off.

On his goal

Chavez challenged for it and it dropped in the right spot for me. I just focused on making contact with it because I was so near the goal. Lucky for me it hit the post and came back the other direction. For me, a little bit of luck, but I’ll take it.
Colorado midfielder Jeff Larentowicz

That’s what’s disappointing is we know we’re a better team than that. Just tonight from the get-go, we didn’t have it. We didn’t show what we really had. Dallas is a team that is good attacking and they can exploit things when you’re not showing your best and they did tonight. I think ultimately we’ll have to go back and look at it to find the technical things, but I think that for every game in this league you have to be up, you have to be ready and you have to prepare for battle because all the teams are good.
It’s a 34-game season and that was only one game, so we’ll move on.

Columbus vs FC Dallas - Match Grades

April, 2, 2011
If we know one thing about FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman, its that he can take a swift kick to the 'twig & berries'. But if you told the Gaffer prior to the season that after the first three matches his squad would gather two red cards, a single goal and a single point, he might have doubled over in severe pain.

Or would he?

After all, when you make as many changes as he has from last year's Cup running side, struggling might be - actually should be - expected.

Friday night in Columbus was an extreme with five changes to the side from the loss to San Jose. While Shea's return to center back was obvious, you probably lifted an eyebrow over the additions of Ugo at right back, Jackson at linking mid and the youngsters Castillo (left wing) and Luna (up top).

All of that equaled a disappointing result in Ohio but clouded by Jackson's unforgivable one-minute double yellow just after a half hour of play. This is still a team that you can't really figure out simply because two of the three matches they've been forced to play a man down for 3/4's of the match.

But of the three matches, this is the first that Dallas wasn't clearly the better side. Even a man down Dallas looked to really push Chicago, and they outplayed San Jose in every aspect of the game (minus finishing).

In Columbus though, Dallas was not the better side before or after the Jackson meltdown. Dallas struggled to gain much possession in the first 30 minutes and were relegated mostly to defending and counters. Again the midfield struggled, although there was some attempt to play through the middle and not the exclusive lengthy play seen in weeks one and two.

Again, like last season, 2011 will always come down to this: As Ferreira goes, so goes the team. Show me a FCD win, and I will show you a night David is able to free himself and do his thing. The problem is, as Hyndman stated in his post match comments, "It’s just not one player after him. The whole team is trying to shut him down".

Hyndman has much to consider and most of it is tied to Shea. Just how determined he is to recreate Brek into a CB will be seen in the coming weeks. Remember, the last Dallas player to attempt this positional move was Bobby Rhine. And much like with Bobby the results are going to be very mixed. What Dir gained in attacking with Bobby at right back came with understandable defensive miscues. Same with Brek, what Dallas gains in size, speed, ball skill and passing out of the back (especially that), its going to get some poor defensive work.

So, does Hyndman need a left midfielder so badly that he moves Brek back to midfield?

Go to a 4-4-2? If so, does that make Ferreira's situation worse?

Personally I think Hyndman sticks with the 4-1-4-1, has to hope that someone steps up to fill Dax's shoes as that is likely the only thing that helps Ferreira consistently find space. What is hurting Dallas now isn't the formation, its the performances of the players.

Friday will be an outstanding night as Dallas sets itself up nicely to grab its first three points against the team that so cruelly bested them in Toronto on that cold, windy, crummy November night.

Grades: (5 is an average performance, 10 is a world-class mindbender. Please note in my system, each player is held to a different standard based on their experience, position and expectation. ie: a Luna grade of "5" is likely different that a Milton grade of "5".)

Hartman: 6 - Appears to still be in 2010 form.

Ugo: 3 - Looked so out of place, especially when you think of Loyd in that same spot. Touch was horrid all night.

John: 5 - Really was one of the few having a decent night, but the PK was a poor defending decision on his part, and he knows it

Shea: 4 - Suddenly now clears balls when he appears to have some space and time. Is that progress or regress? Gavin goal was completely "midfielder defending".

Benitez: 4 - Like last season, one of those intermittent odd performances with poor passing and seems more interested in mixing it up with opponents.

Chavez: 4 - Another unimpressive showing

Castillo: I - The one player that most suffered from the red card. Thought Schellas should have subbed him out straight away.

Hernandez: 5 - Battled so hard, looked hurt, thought should have been subbed with 20 minutes left

Jackson: 1 - Was invisible until he killed his team. First tackle was clumsy, 2nd was a Hyndman relationship ender.

Ferreira: 5 - I wonder if each MLS match actually takes one match off his playing career?

Luna: 4 - Is going to learn quickly that his pshyical style isn't going to play as well at this level, but did hold the ball up better as match wore on.


Loyd : I - Neither got on early enough to make an impact

Milton - I

NEW FEATURE! A letter grade for the entertainment value of the match itself.

Game: C+ - Very much a display of two sides with a single point between them before kickoff. How Columbus didn't put Dallas away sooner is more a testament to their poor quality than anything.

Ed note: Grades are for entertainment purposes only. Do not take them to heart, personally or otherwise. If you don’t like the grades may we suggest instead of only calling the author names and bein’ an anonymous meanie, how about you put your grades and explanation in the comment section below. After doing that, then you can then call the author names and remain anonymous, you just won’t be a meanie. Discourse is good for the soul.

Crew drop two on FC Dallas

April, 1, 2011
Andres Mendoza scored in the 54th minute and Eddie Gaven netted a brace in the 91st as FC Dallas handed over a match 2-0 to the Columbus Crew Friday night at Crew Stadium.

FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman rolled out five changes from last week’s disappointing 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. Brek Shea and Ugo Ihemelu returned to defense, pushing Jackson into the linking midfielder’s role. Fabian Castillo earned his first MLS start on the left wing, as did Ruben Luna in the sole striker’s position up top.

None of these changes made much difference, however, as mental lapses and poor decisions gifted the match to Columbus.

The problems started in just the 33rd minute as Jackson earned his second yellow of the match on a challenge to Gaven that saw him sent off. Then in the 53rd minute, George John brought down Emmanual Ekpo in the box on a poor challenge before Ekpo was ever in shooting position. Columbus designated player Mendoza stepped to the spot and knocked it under a sprawling Kevin Hartman for the 1-0 lead.

This season’s start would have to be considered disappointing on any level. That Dallas has now played two of their three matches a man down is bad enough. We’ve grown accustomed to Hyndman-led teams getting off to a slow start. But the number of mental gaffs and inability of players to step up to the task is an alarming early trend. Certainly there is yet no reason to believe this season is a disaster in the making; no such signs exist. But as the frustration continues to mount, just awaiting a solid performance is feeling nowhere near.

Despite the negativity, there were some positive signs in this match. Castillo’s debut showed yet more of the abilities that are to provide excitement and goals as the season continues. Despite less-than-excellent distribution, Brek Shea was much more solid in central defense, definitely a step forward from his performance opening week. And while Ruben Luna did not have any excellent chances on goal, his ability to hold up the ball and be a part of the attack shows promise for the young striker.

But the biggest hole on this team continues to be the linking midfielder role so ably filled by Dax McCarty last season. Who will Hyndman try next Friday in the MLS Cup rematch against the Colorado Rapids? Many fans will want Erica Avila, but his lack of defensive ability may preclude him in Hyndman’s mind. And let’s face it, Avila has proved to be exactly what he is: a late match energy sub; he’s not starting caliber for this club.

But the question becomes, who is?

The sooner someone steps up in the linking role, the sooner Dallas can work on resolving another painful trouble: only a single goal through three matches. It should only be a matter of time before the shots start falling for the Red & White. Dallas certainly did not begin the season scoring much a year ago and ended up fine. But waiting for the breakthrough is nerve wrecking.

It’s a long season. But Dallas fans will feel no better after this loss. A win against the hated Rapids could do wonders to ease early season fears.

Scoring Summary:
CLB – Andres Mendoza (Penalty Kick) 54
CLB – Eddie Gaven (Robbie Rogers) 91+

Misconduct Summary:
CLB – Emmanuel Ekpo (caution; Reckless Foul) 20
DAL – Jackson (caution; Reckless Foul) 32
DAL – Jackson (caution; Reckless Tackle) 33
DAL – Jackson (ejection; Second Caution) 33
CLB – Dejan Rusmir (caution; Reckless Foul) 42
CLB – Kevin Burns (caution; Reckless Tackle) 88


FC Dallas – Kevin Hartman, Ugo Ihemelu, Brek Shea, George John, Jair Benitez, Marvin Chavez (Zach Loyd 78), Daniel Hernandez, Jackson, Fabian Castillo (Milton Rodriguez 78), David Ferreira, Ruben Luna

Subs not used: Eric Alexander, Eric Avila, Andrew Jacobson, Ricardo Villar, Chris Seitz

TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Luna and Rodriguez 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Luna 3); FOULS: 10 (Four Players with 2); OFFSIDES: 1 (Chavez 1); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Ferreira 2); SAVES: 4 (Hartman 4)

Columbus Crew – William Hesmer, Sebastian Miranda, Julius James, Chad Marshall, Rich Balchan, Eddie Gaven, Dejan Rusmir (Emilio Renteria 46), Kevin Burns, Robbie Rogers, Emmanuel Ekpo (Dilly Duka 85), Andres Mendoza (Jeff Cunningham 61)

Subs not used: Josh Gardner, Tommy Heinemann, Andy Iro, Alex Riggs

TOTAL SHOTS: 17 (Gaven and Mendoza 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Gaven and Mendoza 2); FOULS: 16 (Burns and Ekpo 3); OFFSIDES: 4 (Four players with 1); CORNER KICKS: 5 (Gaven 4); SAVES: 7 (Hesmer 7).

Weather: Cloudy, 48 degrees

Referee: Jair Marrufo
Referee Assistants: C.J. Morgante, Corey Rockwell

4th Official: Jasen Anno

Time of Game: 1:51

Attendance: 14,549


FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman:

General impressions on the game: “To play down a man when you’re on the road doesn’t help. I don’t feel we were outplayed, I think that even down a man we had an opportunity to stay in the game and it was the circumstances that made the game as difficult as it was.”

FC Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman:

On the penalty shot: I wanted to stay up as long as I could. He [Mendoza] seemed like the type of player who wants to see where the goalkeeper’s going so I tried to stay as long as I could. I got a really good jump on it, I got a hand on it, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to pull it out of the post.

General impressions on the game: It is tough to judge a team when you play 60 minutes down a man. I thought we really worked hard to try and catch the equalizer and we were threatening and it speaks to our character not wanting to give up and continue to push.

Crew head coach Robert Warzycha:

On the game: Defensively, we played a really solid game. When we see Dallas play, we see the backs overlapping and Ferreira getting chances but we did not see that today. I think we controlled the game even before they got the red card. We need to play a little better in front. We need to hold the ball a little bit longer and get the midfielders involved. Overall, I was happy with the performance.

On playing with the man advantage: We put an extra forward on the field. We put Emilio [Renteria] in to try to put a little bit more pressure on the defenders, especially on the crosses. Sometimes it is tough to play with a man advantage, because you think everything is going to fall your way. When you play with the advantage, you have to play harder. At some point, we gave Dallas a little bit of momentum, but we took control of the game back in the end and we had chances in the end and scored on one.

Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer:

On getting the shutout: We were excellent defensively. We were organized and compact, even before they got the red card. I think we did a better job at keeping the ball, but even when they got the ball we didn’t allow them to do much.

Overall: It was very important to get this win. The team needed confidence to start believing in themselves. We’re a good team, but you don’t start believing it until you start piling up some wins and hopefully this will help.

Crew forward Andres Mendoza:

On taking the penalty shot: I was thinking about getting the ball in the back of the net and scoring the goal. Normally I watch the goalkeeper to see where he goes and I was able to beat him.

Thoughts on the game: I think we did well and worked hard. We did everything that the coach told us. Even after we scored, we didn’t let up and kept going. Little by little, we are improving.

San Jose Earthquakes 2 vs FC Dallas 0

March, 27, 2011
FC Dallas fell to the San Jose Earthquakes and the Chris Wondolowski Show 2-0 at Pizza Hut Park Saturday night in a poor first-half showing to continue a slow start for the defending Western Conference champions.

Lax marking by last week’s hero, Zach Loyd, gave the 2010 MLS Golden Boot winner Wondolowski the time and space to score twice in the game’s first 25 minutes.

Wondolowski’s first goal came in just the fifth minute of play. After receiving a ball in the box, Wondolowski took the ball off a volley with time to turn and punch the shot past a helpless Kevin Hartman. His second goal would come in just the 23rd minute after Dallas was unable to clear the ball on a set piece, heading the ball with time and space afforded by Loyd’s poor marking.

This match featured both frustrating and encouraging signs for FC Dallas.

Injuries and inconsistent play along the backline cost Dallas for the second week in a row. Last week’s misery was brought on by Brek Shea’s silly straight red card; this week’s by Zach Loyd’s abysmal defending. We’ve seen much better than this from Loyd, but Ugo Ihemelu’s absence brought the pain. The difference in the match was clearly along the two teams back lines: Dallas’s shaky and suspect; San Jose’s healthy and familiar. Additionally, Dallas’ inability to finish chances cost them dearly, most notably Milton Rodriguez’ failure on a one-on-one with ‘Quakes keeper Jon Busch at the 60 minute mark.

On the encouraging side, FC Dallas designated player and 18 year-old wonderkid Fabian Castillo made his debut and an immediate impact in the match, taking on defenders and turning them this way and that. The sheer athleticism displayed at left flank should send a clear message to Brek Shea: you now have competition at your preferred position.

Another positive was the emergence of the gritty, give-it-all team from a year ago, a far cry from the team that stepped on the field the first 45 minutes. It’s too bad Dallas allowed the early goals. This should have been a winnable match. Dallas’ punishment was to have to try to break down a boring, packed-in San Jose defense for the rest of the match. They still created chances and were unfortunate to not have received the dividends of their labors.

The MLS season is a long one, and two matches is not yet enough time to evaluate where this team could finish. But injuries and uninspired play are always cause for alarm. Dallas will go into their match with MLS Cup Champion Colorado Rapids Columbus Crew still searching for their first win, but with major defensive questions looming. Dallas could use a win; a tie or a loss would surely mean Dallas would simply add to the pressure of overcoming a lackluster start.

Still, there is no reason to suspect this team is in any kind of disarray. And in MLS, ending strong is much more important than starting strong. But if Dallas doesn’t start earning points soon, the going will be just that much tougher.

Schellas Hyndman post game comments.
Scoring Summary:
SJ -- Chris Wondolowski 1 (Chris Leitch 1) 5
SJ -- Chris Wondolowski 2 (Joey Gjertsen 1, Chris Leitch 2) 23

Misconduct Summary:


San Jose Earthquakes -- Jon Busch, Chris Leitch, Jason Hernandez, Brandon McDonald, Ramiro Corrales (Brad Ring 89), Joey Gjertsen (Ellis McLoughlin 73), Sam Cronin, Simon Dawkins (Ike Opara 83), Bobby Convey, Chris Wondolowski, Ryan Johnson.
Substitutes Not Used: Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Bobby Burling, Matt Luzunaris, Andrew Weber.

FC Dallas -- Kevin Hartman, Zach Loyd, George John, Jackson (Ruben Luna 74), Jair Benitez, Marvin Chavez, Eric Alexander (Eric Avila 62), Daniel Hernandez, Ricardo Villar (Fabian Castillo 57), Milton Rodriguez, David Ferreira.
Substitutes Not Used: Ugo Ihemelu, Andrew Jacobson, Bobby Warshaw, Chris Seitz.

Referee: Ricardo Salazar
Referee's Assistants: Peter Manikowski; Mike Kampmeinert
4th Official: Armando Villarreal

Attendance: 11,022
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Clear and 68 degrees

Daniel Hernandez post game comments.

Zip it: FC Dallas at San Jose

September, 12, 2010
FC Dallas extended their remarkable run of form to 14 consecutive matches without a loss with a goalless draw against San Jose Earthquakes Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California. FC Dallas earned their 41st point in 23 matches, good for third place in the Western Conference and three points shy of Real Salt Lake.

After an early barrage by San Jose, FC Dallas managed to take control of the first half of action. Only a few mistimed runs and breakdowns in the attacking third kept Dallas off the scoreboard in a half well-dominated by Dallas. Brek Shea’s open header in the 15th minute went wide of goal and Daniel Hernandez well-hit free kick was gathered at ground-level by Jon Busch keeping the score level at 0-0.

San Jose fought back to even the play in the second half and might have even taken the three points when Geovanni’s perfectly weighted pass was touched down by fellow Brazilian Eduardo inside the box. However, Eduardo’s shot was sent harmlessly outside Kevin’ Hartman’s post. Dallas shot the ball eight times in the final frame although none required a save from Busch.

The star in Dallas current streak is their defense. It all starts with Hartman at the back, who despite a few “human” bobbles here and there, always seems to come up with at least one game-changing save. His organization on set-pieces has been nearly flawless. That Dallas has continued this streak through what has become a rotating cast of central defenders makes it all the more impressive. Injuries could have been disastrous to this club, yet even when newest center back Jackson went down with a knee injury; almost-forgotten Kyle Davies emerged with a strong, confident match.

The continuity of defense rests almost solely on the shoulders of Schellas Hyndman. Hyndman’s insistence that every player on the field competes day in and day out for their position has instilled a passion in his side; players know their roles. The results are self-evident. Dallas will be looking to move their streak to 15 matches Thursday against New York Red Bulls. Think of the disaster this side could have had with all the injuries. Instead, Dallas has not given up a goal in four straight matches and only one in their last five.

Injuries may make things more difficult yet. Depending on the status of Jackson, Dallas may be left to start the second year player Davies and rookie Zach Loyd. Any more injuries will certainly send Daniel Hernandez to the back line, leaving Eric Alexander to switch positions again. Honestly, the possibilities make my head hurt, but thankfully that is what Hyndman is paid to do. Realizing that Dallas has kept the pieces in place missing Dax McCarty, Ugo Ihemelu, and George John is impressive. But how much more can this side take?

Hopefully, McCarty, Ihemelu, and John are able to come back and contribute before season’s end. Dallas is now firmly engaged in a fight with Real Salt Lake for the second-place position in the West, ensuring home-field advantage through the first round of the playoffs. But almost more important than the home-field advantage is getting these players back to match-fitness and in the first team. Injuries are part the game, but it’s important to Dallas’ chances that these players are available for selection in the physically and mentally demanding world of MLS playoff soccer.

Just seven matches remain in the 2010 regular season, with much left to decide. The September grind continues. Dallas has had a remarkable- even impressive- season. Injuries are a real and important part of the game. The question is whether Dallas can continue to overcome and maintain their momentum.
FC Dallas made history Saturday afternoon in Columbus as they set the MLS record for consecutive unbeaten road matches in a 0-0 tie with the Columbus Crew. Dallas also extended their overall unbeaten streak to 12 matches.

Both sides saw scoring chances squandered. Dallas ‘keeper Kevin Hartman’s misplay of a free kick led to a Crew chance that was stopped only by the good work of Atiba Harris in the 10th minute. Just six minutes later, Dallas forward Milton Rodriguez played Brek Shea in behind the Crew defense, only to see Shea put the ball over the top of goal. Dallas rookie Zach Loyd saved a second half chance off the line after Hartman went down in the box and Crew ‘keeper William Hesmer made several nice saves to deny Dallas opportunities.

Dallas’ ten match unbeaten road streak has included seven ties and three wins. Overall, Dallas has seven ties and five wins in their last twelve.

It was an interesting match from the perspective of Dallas. It was the first match in recent memory that David Ferreira was merely mortal. The diminutive central attacker was unable to provide his usual heroics as his passes fell errant all afternoon. It was a reminder of just how special the player has been all season. Ferreira wasn’t bad; he was just ordinary. Perhaps that is credit to a very good Crew side, but worries that Ferreira may be finally beginning to tire in a season that has seen him play every single minute of every match has to be considered. The question of Dallas’ ability to maintain their form with a tiring Ferreira is not pleasant to consider.

Also, yellow card accumulations earned in the match means Dallas will have to soldier on without the services of Harris and captain Daniel Hernandez in the weekend’s home match against Toronto FC. Even though injuries to Dax McCarty and Ugo Ihemelu has left Dallas without the players’ services, Dallas had used the same lineup over the past three matches. Schellas Hyndman will have to come up with a new solution that can produce a result to continue the club’s excellent form.

That may be easier said than done. Ihemelu’s continued absence due to a concussion nearly proved disastrous in the match as his replacement, Zach Loyd, was beaten badly and challenged greatly by Crew winger Emilio Renteria, exposing the youth and inexperience of the young central defender. Loyd certainly never gave up on the day, but if Ihemelu cannot return, Loyd will surely be a marked man and severely challenged as a result.

Although not a win, this match further underscored Dallas newfound “culture of winning” instilled into the team by Hyndman. This club played to win the match from the onset. A less than stellar effort from the Crew, particularly in the first half, saw Dallas gain the upper hand early. A late-half surge from the Crew was answered by the club sending the match into the break scoreless. Dallas did not enjoy the advantage in the second half, but offensive-minded substitutions from Hyndman kept Dallas in an attacking mindset and the Crew honest. Dallas now plays a “90 Minutes of Hell” kind of match; there simply is no letting up, no settling for the tie.

Dallas continues to sit three points shy of second place Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference with a match in-hand with the do-or-die month of September looming. Traditionally, Dallas teams have wilted under the stresses of the Texas heat and playoff chases late in the year. Is this team different? Is Ferriera’s ordinary outing a sign that this team may be beginning to suffer the same fate as so many other FC Dallas sides?

The answer will be found over the next nine matches. With the playoffs in reach and the season heating up, many questions will be answered. What is not so certain is how.

Zip it: Chivas USA vs FC Dallas

August, 22, 2010
Dallas beat Chivas USA 1-0 Saturday night at Pizza Hut Park on Brek Shea’s 71st minute header. The win was Dallas’ third in a row and runs their unbeaten streak to an impressive 11 matches. In a match that started in 102-degree heat, scoring chances and energy were at a premium.

It was Jair Benitez’ lofty cross from the left flank that would provide all the service Dallas would need on the evening. His lovely ball to the back post allowed Shea to perform another first in his young career: score from the header. Shea placed the ball back inside the goal-mouth and away from the helpless Zach Thornton.

Dallas would also call on the services of Kevin “El Gato” Hartman again. Hartman had three more excellent saves, one in the first half on Dario Delgado, then two more in rapid succession in the second half, first on Michael Umańa, then within the next minute on Delgado again. Hartman’s excellence from the back continued to lead his club as he recorded yet another clean sheet.

It’s worth noting that Thornton was no less than spectacular on the evening. The 36 year-old 2009 MLS Best XI ‘keeper almost single-handedly kept Dallas off the board. His save on a free-kick from Milton Rodriguez was a parallel-to-the-ground flying thing of beauty. As a Dallas supporter, it was disappointing; as a fan of the Game, it was beautiful.

Speaking of clean sheets, the shutout is particularly noteworthy due to the absences of the injured Dax McCarty and Ugo Ihemelu, replaced by rookies Eric Alexander and Zach Loyd respectively. Neither starter’s position on the pitch is easily replaced. That Head Coach Schellas Hyndman continues to be rewarded for his faith is noteworthy. Remember that Hyndman has proved himself to have few sympathies for young players, preferring to go with experience whenever he can. Yet Hyndman has not deviated from the tactics that proved successful when both starters were on the pitch, a fact that cannot be overlooked when assessing the play of these two rookies.

Hyndman has also shown little tendency to break from the tactics that has served the club so well. Opponents know exactly what they are facing when they play Dallas. Dallas continues to rely on the same formations and defensive ploys match after match; there is no trickery or subterfuge here. If this were American football, you’d describe this club as one who just lines up and comes at you until you stop them. That’s also an excellent indicator of where this club is. That teams cannot stop Dallas shows just how well-oiled the machine has become. It certainly doesn’t mean an opponent won’t soon discover the players and tactics to put an end to this golden streak, but Dallas seems to show the will and tenacity and talent to keep the mood positive for some time.

Another player worth mentioning in this match is Milton Rodriguez. No, he didn’t score a goal, a troubling fact. But Rodriguez was called offside at least four times in the match. Why is this noteworthy? Remember Carlos Ruiz? It was always my view that Ruiz was on the cusp of figuring things out when he started racking up offside calls. Rodriguez appears to be close to getting on the same page as his teammates. Perhaps the corner was entered in the match, but with only 58 minutes of action and a streaking Jeff Cunningham off the bench, the corner was never turned. If Rodriguez catches fire, this team may be near unstoppable. Time will tell if I am right.

Lastly, let’s pay a little tribute to Jair Benitez. Benitez has often been maligned for sloppy play in this column, most notably for poor service and defensive positioning. But Benitez made plays on both sides of the ball that were game-changers. First, his aggressive and speedy backtrack to parry away what would have been a one-on-one with Hartman saved Dallas from going down in the match in the first half. His assist to Shea was not only beautiful; it also was taken from very high on the pitch. Don’t underestimate the importance of the Dallas outside backs getting forward; in fact, this team would lose a sizable portion of their scoring punch were Heath Pearce and Benitez prevented from wandering high into the dangerous flank areas outside the opposing teams box. For all of the grief I have hurled at Benitez, getting forward is perhaps his strongest trait. The player must add more assists, but the danger is there.

So Dallas wins another match; the new culture of winning prevailing in this match and on the season. It’s easy to spot the positives in this club; in fact, there seem to be so many that it’s not easy to write about them all in one column. But the bottom line is Dallas did it again and the signs are there for more. Holy cow, it’s nice to watch!

Zip it: FC Dallas at D.C. United

August, 15, 2010
FC Dallas (8-2-9) overcame a motivated DC United side at RFK Stadium 3-1 Saturday night to push their unbeaten streak to a club-record ten matches. David Ferreira (36’) and Jeff Cunningham (92’) tallied for the Red Stripes and rookie Eric Alexander (49’) scored his first career goal. An own-goal from the foot of Dallas left back Jair Benitez accounted for DC United’s only score of the night.

United emerged from the opening whistle with the intent to physically dominate Dallas, each player literally fighting for their jobs under interim coach Ben Olsen. While FC Dallas never trailed on the night, they had a brilliant first half from goalkeeper Kevin Hartman to thank. Hartman’s four outstanding saves helped keep United off the scoreboard in a first half dominated by United until Ferreira scored in the 36th minute against the run of play.

Alexander’s excellent defense-splitting through ball sprung Brek Shea into a one-on-one with United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who charged at Shea. Shea calmly squared the ball to the onrushing Ferreira who found the open net for a 1-0 Dallas lead.

Dallas would gain control of the match afterward, although the score would not change until after the restart. It didn’t take long for Dallas to find the back of the net.

Brek Shea wrestled down a long pass and found Ferreira on the left side of the box. Ferreira beat his man and sent the ball on a backwards diagonal that found the feet of Milton Rodriguez. Rodriguez simply laid the ball at the feet of Alexander, who aimed the ball into the inside side-netting for the 2-0 lead.

But a mistake from Benitez put United back into the hunt in the 80th minute. Benitez appeared to be confused on a long cross into the box. While it is uncertain that Benitez might have been able to head the ball away, the player appeared to be caught in no-man’s land. His attempted kick clearance sailed straight by Hartman to narrow the Dallas lead to 2-1. However, United never posed a serious threat again.

Jeff Cunningham would remove all doubt in stoppage. Benitez sent a long clearance forward towards Cunningham. Cunningham beat the United defender to the ball, then calmly rounded Hamid to slot the ball into the back of the net, ending the match 3-1.

This was another excellent win for FC Dallas. The club overcame a very tenacious side determined to physically dominate the game. DC United is a poor club, despite their storied history, but with Ben Olsen at the helm they took on the gritty determination he was known for during his playing career. Perhaps Dallas received the blessings of the Soccer Gods by not allowing any of United’s hard work to pay dividends.

Perhaps it was just Kevin Hartman. The Dallas goalkeeper stole the show Saturday night in the first half. His excellence on the year was summarized in the first half alone. Each time Dallas coughed up the ball in a dangerous area or DC United made the threatening play, Hartman was up to the task. Hartman’s play kept the match scoreless until Ferreira’s goal turned the tide.

Then there was the play of Eric Alexander. The rookie, inserted into the lineup for the still-ailing Dax McCarty, had perhaps his best day yet in a Dallas uniform. While he was responsible for a turnover that led to a spectacular Hartman save, the rest of the day he just made plays. Signs of what this player can be are there. His vision and ability to beat two defenders with a laser-like pass led directly to the first goal. Later, his coolness on the ball sent Dallas up 2-0 early on in the second half. Like Shea, we are witnessing the emergence of a talent that should provide Dallas fans with much joy in the coming years.

Speaking of Brek Shea, I admit I have not spent enough time pointing out the emergence of this player. It’s not enough to say that his play has erased doubt about the departure of Dave Van Den Berg. Shea is emerging as a potential star on this club. His tireless work-rate and improving touch are light years from where he began the season. His mental game has stepped up to the task, too. The player who early in the season seemed to panic in the face of goal is now spotting chances for assists under heavy duress. Remember, Shea is 20 years old; he’s just going to get better. You can bet that the rumors and speculation about Europe won’t be far away either. Shea is the real deal; enjoy him while he’s here, bad hair and all.

Zip it: Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas

August, 9, 2010
FC Dallas took advantage of a red card and the Texas heat to post a 3-1 comeback victory over Philadelphia Union Sunday afternoon at Pizza Hut Park. FC Dallas is now unbeaten in their last nine matches.

Union opened the scoring on an odd-looking play in just the 9th minute. Alejandro Moreno was the beneficiary of missed clearances on the play by both Heath Pearce and George John, who saw the ball travel literally between his legs. Moreno pounced on the loose ball and deflected his shot past Kevin Hartman for the early 1-0 lead.

Union’s advantage and momentum came to an end only 13 minutes later when Philly goalkeeper Brad Knighton was shown a red card for his tackle on Brek Shea inside the box. Knighton misplayed a routine ball intended for Shea, then added to his mistake by taking down the Dallas winger, who was on the way to the ball and an easy tap-in goal. David Ferreira sent the resulting penalty kick past usual Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz to notch the score 1-1.

Jeff Cunningham’s insertion into the match at the second-half restart paid dividends as Dallas pressed the attack in the withering Texas heat. Cunningham, known for his ability to score goals in bunches, found the back of the net twice on the day.

Cunningham’s game winning brace came in the 75th minute. Brek Shea served in a beautiful ball from the left flank which Cunningham nodded down past the helpless Seitz. Then in the 81st minute, Ferreira played Cunningham in behind the Union defense and into a one-on-one with the Union ‘keeper. Cunningham easily won the battle, providing the final score on the day, 3-1.

It was a fair result on a day that saw Dallas rebound from early jitters and took advantage of a major mistake. Union had controlled much of the early possession in the match as they attempted to control the tempo. They were rewarded for their hard work with a goal, but once Knighton was sent off, Dallas was nothing but methodical in their plan to wear out the Union defense. Dallas possession and ball movement was crisp as they played the ball into the wide areas on both sides of goal. It was almost inevitable that Dallas would break through to control the match against the packed-in Philly side.

Good teams find ways to win, especially in matches they should. Dallas did not allow early shaky play to avalanche into a long and brutal afternoon. Instead, it was the near immediate result of an attacking mood that allowed Dallas to come back in the match. It is getting to be a little bit old hat, but this team doesn’t lay down for anyone and seems to have no lack of will to win. There seems to be no lack of desire to press the attack under almost any circumstances.

That Dallas scored another penalty kick goal is telling. While Dallas has struggled at times to score from the run of play, it seems like they get penalty kick opportunities on a regular basis. This must be due to the number of excellent chances created. Ferreira, especially, is a chance-creation machine. If there is a better passer in MLS, please let me know who it is; his current form is almost too good to believe. But chances are coming from all over the field. Only several errant crosses from the foot of Jair Benitez and an easy miss from Atiba Harris stopped Dallas from winning this one in a much more gaudy fashion.

Jeff Cunningham finally took advantage of his chances, a reminder of the player who scored 16 times in the last 14 matches a year ago on his way to the Golden Boot. Cunningham is wildly streaky; his ability to marvel and frustrate seem to come over long stretches. His struggles this season have been well-chronicled, but Sunday’s match demonstrated why Schellas Hyndman has not been quite ready to throw in the towel on Cunningham’s season. If Cunningham is finally coming out of his first-half funk Dallas opponents will have great reason to fear; Cunningham’s “arrival” signals new problems that will provide difficult questions to opponents from here on out. Dallas fans can only hope that Cunningham has found the answer.

The defense continues to be strong as well. Dallas does not allow their opponents to find the back of the net more than once per match- if at all. When opponents score, the Dallas response has been thorough; they simply shut down their opponents. Dallas has not allowed more than a single goal in a league match since April, a stretch of 14 matches, a massive improvement over one of the league’s shakiest defenses from a year ago.

After spending two years outside the playoffs, FC Dallas has returned to the upper tier of Major League Soccer. It is getting more and more difficult to find major problems within the current team. The signs that this team is the real thing are there. Unbeaten streaks will do that. There is still much soccer left to play, but the excitement in Dallas is building again and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Zip It: FC Dallas at Colorado Rapids

July, 31, 2010
Post All-Star break points are precious. Dallas earned one valuable point in yet another road draw with the Colorado Rapids 1-1 Saturday afternoon at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park outside Denver.

Dallas opened up the scoring in the 22nd minute with an own-goal from Colorado’s Julien Baudet. David Ferreira’s excellent pass freed left back Jair Benitez streaking down the left touch line. Benitez crossed the ball into the box towards Milton Rodriguez but the ball found Baudet’s foot instead and was redirected past a helpless Matt Pickens for the 1-0 Dallas lead.

The Dallas lead would hold for a mere four minutes.

Colorado would score from a penalty kick from Mehdi Ballouchy to provide the match’s final outcome. Dallas right winger Atiba Harris handled a ball from a corner kick to send Ballouchy to the spot, where he easily outguessed Dallas ‘keeper Kevin Hartman.

Harris did not have a good day and was pulled on the hour mark. One play where Harris could have easily redeemed himself with a misplay of a wide-open chance from a cross off the boot of Rodriguez. Instead Harris missed the ball almost completely. The camera showed Rodriguez shaking his head in disbelief and Harris was later pulled from match for out-of-favor Marvin Chavez.

But Harris was not alone in missing chances. Clearly Rodriguez appeared frustrated with several chances the goal-scorer felt he should have completed. Bad-haired Brek Shea chipped in with another miss. Lack of finishing has been a problem all year for FC Dallas and this day would be a return to poor scoring form.

But this match also served additional proof that the 2010 version of FC Dallas are a much improved side, the league’s hottest, and arguably one of its best. Despite the poor finishing, Dallas managed to push their unbeaten streak to eight matches. Dallas also owns the best road record in MLS, a key quality that can only help in the playoffs.

Ferreira has figured out this league. His laser-like passes and dogged determination on the ball leads Dallas and creates chances almost at will. Ferreira is clearly Dallas’ most effective weapon; other clubs know this but seem helpless to contain El Torito. There is not much more Ferreira could do to help this point. It is simply up to his teammates now to finish the chances he creates.

The defense continues to be solid. A year ago, Anthony Wallace’s lazy play allowed Colorado’s Omar Cummings to tie the match in the 84th minute, a result I am still sore about. This year, Anthony Wallace, traded in the last week, sat with the reserves for Colorado and Benitez was in his place in the Dallas first team. I wish Wallace all the luck in the world, but he became expendable as this club has improved its personnel. There is little to resemble that shaky, wobbly side of a year ago. A year ago, Dallas could barely contain the speed of Cummings. Cummings was mostly ineffectual in this match as the Dallas defense turned away most scoring opportunities.

When Colorado did create chances, Kevin Hartman’s strong form kept the game in check. Hartman was only credited with three saves, but they were all excellent. No one should doubt El Gato’s contribution to the stability this team has garnered. As Dario Sala sat out his suspension for a red card last weekend, El Gato left no doubt who is the number one keeper on this club now.

It’s also good to see this team go into hostile environments looking for the win. It all starts at the top.

With a half-hour to play and the outcome very much in doubt, Colorado coach Gary Smith made a midfield change to shore up the Rapids’ defense. What? Seriously? FC Dallas fans would have been screaming for Schellas Hyndman’s head, and rightfully so. Hyndman answered by inserting Jeff Cunningham for Rodriguez to run at the tiring Colorado back line. It is too bad that Rodriguez is not yet match fit; a 90-minutes ready Rodriguez would have paired nicely with the brighter Cunningham we saw today. In any case, Hyndman is seemingly always poised for the attack, yet solid attacking options from the bench appear thin with Eric Avila out of favor and Dallas missing another solid striker option.

Still, another decent result on the road was earned by the good guys. A year can make all the difference in the world, but crunch time has officially arrived. But few could doubt that this team should be positioned to earn the critical points down the stretch needed to secure a playoff berth. Every point from here on out is precious indeed.