Depending on how one views it, FC Dallas’ Wednesday night meeting with the New York Red Bulls in an MLS Wild Card Match at Pizza Hut Park could either be an inevitable end to a season that has taken more than its share of twists and turns. Or maybe Wednesday’s game could signal the beginning of another long playoff run.
No matter how this one turns out you might be surprised to hear the vibe surrounding this year’s FCD squad heading into the postseason isn’t all that much different than it was last fall when the club was playing much better soccer.
“It’s a new season basically,” Dallas center back Ugo Ihemelu said. “What happened during the regular season doesn’t really matter. Now it’s a fresh start and that’s how every team’s going to look at it. It’s a new opportunity to start fresh and try to make it to the championship.”
But for FCD gaffer Schellas Hyndman, there is one major difference between last year’s group and this year’s group heading in terms of their mentality heading into the postseason.
“I think the difference for us is we’ve been there, so we know how intense playoff games can be,” Hyndman said. “We know how to play in do-and-die situations where you’ve got to get a result. At least we have a chance to go in and continue to extend our season. As far as attitude wise, last year I think it’s very similar, but right now, we have experience and a little bit of knowledge as far as knowing what it’s going to take.”
In the Red Bulls, Dallas will face a side they know quite well and not just because former FCD linking mid Dax McCarty now plays for them. On Sept. 17, these sides met at Pizza Hut Park and despite the home team holding a huge edge in shots, it was the visitors who came away with a 1-0 win for just their second win of 2011 away from Red Bull Arena.
Even though Dallas came away with no points on that Saturday night, the FCD players agree that they played pretty well no matter what the scoreboard showed at the final whistle. “I don’t think we should change much. I think we played well,” Dallas midfielder Andrew Jacobson said. “I think we had the better possession. I think that was kind of in a period where we weren’t finishing. I think that’s something we’ve corrected a little. We’re doing a little better. I think if we could, we’d replicate the same thing-get that many chances and hopefully we can bury a couple and get a nice advantage.”
However, that Red Bulls team was playing without the likes of Rafael Marquez and Thierry Henry among others. Standout defenders Roy Miller and Jan Gunnar Solli were also out for New York but all four should be in Hans Backe’s first 11 come Wednesday.
The Red Bulls were the last MLS team to qualify for the 2011 playoffs, punching their ticket by virtue of a 1-0 win over Philadelphia on Thursday night. They are 4-2-1 in their last seven league matches and even though they look to be experiencing better form than Dallas, the man who should know sees several advantages to facing the side from Harrison, New Jersey.
“The advantage is they’re a team that will really try to come out and play. We seem to perform a little bit better when both teams are really trying to play,” Hyndman said. “So… a very talented group, probably the most talent in the league. They cut it very close to get into the playoffs but now that they’re in the playoffs, it’s a new season. A new season will bring the best out of all the teams.”
Reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira has been ruled out for the early stages of the playoffs but were FCD to make a return trip to the MLS final, he could be a possibility. One player who also might not be available this weekend is midfielder Ricardo Villar, who suffered a foot injury in last Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Toronto FC, a defeat that bounced Dallas from the CONCACAF Champions League. Villar was running on the side during training on Monday but it appears he won’t be ready to play against New York. “I don’t know [what his status is],” Hyndman said. “He’s trying to work his way into the lineup.”
After a 2010 season that ended with a heartbreaking loss to Colorado in MLS Cup, one might think that the mantra of “unfinished business” could be the rallying cry for Dallas this time around, but as a famous commentator once so eloquently put it, not so fast my friend.
“Yeah, that was [our motto] this spring but that was last season. You can’t dwell in the past,” Ihemelu said. “We came up short. That’s what it was last year. Now it’s a new playoff run. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time and trying to achieve something new this year.”
While New York enters this match on a small roll, it’s definitely the opposite for FCD. Besides the aforementioned loss to TFC, Dallas also lost 4-2 at San Jose on Saturday to close out the regular season. But to be fair, that was a match where FCD played without seven starters-one missing due to suspension and six others left back in Frisco to rest up for the playoffs.
Dallas was on a two-game league winning streak before that loss to the Earthquakes. But there’s no denying this has been a tough stretch for the reigning Western Conference champions. However, at least one regular in Hyndman’s lineup feels all that adversity has done is strengthen the bond of the entire roster.
“The team has definitely connected well here. The guys really fight for each other and you can see with the results,” Jacobson said. “We had a tough stretch but I think that connection is what will pull us through in the playoffs. I think everyone has come together and knows it’s all about the team right now.”