FC Dallas hasn’t been at the top of the Western Conference table in quite sometime. In fact, it wasn’t since the start of their last spring swoon that the Hoops were the team to beat out here in the west.
But after a nine-match unbeaten streak in MLS action (and 13-match unbeaten streak in all competitions since the PK loss to Philadelphia technically goes down as a draw), FC Dallas finds itself in a position to come real close to get back to the top of the conference with a win Friday night at home against conference leader Real Salt Lake in a nationally televised affair.
And with it, the Hoops have the best shot to prove that they are no fluke and different than the team from the past couple of seasons and announce that they are here with a win in arguably the biggest match in MLS this year.
FC Dallas’ recent surge comes to the surprise of many outside the DFW Metroplex, especially after the eight-match winless streak and all of the injuries the side had to deal with during that time. But instead of caving in, the Hoops found themselves and because of the injuries, a couple of the players had to have a trial by fire and were forced to be on the pitch. Through that, the team has emerged as a better and stronger team that instead of fans hoping for a goal and win are now expecting wins and a contending team.
The two biggest factors for the turnaround and better team are both on the offensive front: Fabian Castillo and Tesho Akindele, and both of those were on display for the soccer world Saturday night in a 5-0 win at San Jose. Castillo put a stamp on his arrival to the big stage with two absolute moments of brilliance that resulted in two goals, one of which had him beat three defenders and the goal keeper. Akindele proved his manager right for taking him second in the draft despite coming from a Division II school by recording his first hat trick and in the process jumped to the top of the Rookie of the Year discussions.
But there has been improvement from the less flashier side of the game as well that has been equally important for FC Dallas’ success. Zach Lloyd and Matt Hedges have been the perfect pair at the centerback position, doing well communicating and marking their men almost to a T. They’ve been rock solid along that back line for the Hoops and a big part of the reason why keepers Raul Fernandez and Chris Seitz (now injured) have combined for four clean sheets during this run.
Of course, extending the unbeaten streak to 10 matches in MLS will be no easy task, especially against Supporter’s Shield contenders RSL. The defending Western Conference champions have looked even better than they did a year ago on their quest to avenge last year’s loss to Sporting KC in the MLS Cup. While their latest unbeaten streak isn’t near FC Dallas’, RSL has won or drawn seven of their last eight matches, with their latest victory coming as a 2-1 win over Seattle to take the Western Conference lead. Forward Joel Plata is having a breakout year with 11 goals this season, good enough for fifth in the league and his 5 foot, 2 inch size causes opponents to overlook him, both literally and figuratively. And on the other end, keeper Nick Rimando is now the league’s all-time leader in shutouts with 113 career clean sheets and getting the ball past him is no small task.
But this FC Dallas team has shown that they want to be the best team and that maybe unlike teams in the past have the heart to compete day in and day out in the Texas heat. And with national soccer media finally starting to recognize the success of this team, now is the time to drive that stake through the heart and what better way to do that than with a big win at home against a top team on national television.