Saturday, March 19, 2011
By Alan Ferguson
It took 15 seasons for FC Dallas to reach the MLS Cup, becoming the last of the leagues charter teams to accomplish that feat. Whether the team makes a return trip might hinge on finding suitable replacements for leading goal scorer Jeff Cunningham and other contributors to last years squad.
FC Dallas will start that search Saturday night when it welcomes the Chicago Fire, who missed the postseason for only the second time in 2010.
Following a record-setting regular season, FC Dallas advanced to its first championship game by eliminating defending champ Real Salt Lake and Supporters Shield winner Los Angeles. The franchise fell just short of another victory at Torontos BMO Field, falling 2-1 in overtime to Colorado.
We want to go a step further and bring home that trophy, and Im confident with the way the team has looked this preseason that we are going to continue playing great soccer, captain David Hernandez told the leagues website.
That defeat concluded a 12-4-14 campaign that saw Dallas set MLS records with a 19-game unbeaten run, a 12-game unbeaten streak away from home and the fewest losses. Cunningham had a team-best 11 goals during that season but his contract was not renewed in the offseason.
Following the 34-year-old forwards departure to Columbus, Dallas signed 18-year-old Colombian striker Fabian Castillo. The team could also rely on homegrown player Ruben Luna, who scored six times in the preseason.
FC Dallas will still have reigning league MVP David Ferreira to direct the offense. The midfielder had eight goals and 13 assists during his second MLS campaign, and scored his teams lone goal in the MLS Cup. The team also brought back Marvin Chavez, who had a strong second half, and added two more midfielders in Andrew Jacobson and 31-year-old Brazilian Ricardo Villar.
FC Dallas, though, wont have All-Star defender Heath Pearce, who was dealt to Chivas USA in the offseason. George John (ankle surgery) and Ugo Ihemelu (sports hernia) are also out due to injuries.
Brek Shea will try to help that unit by moving over from his usual spot in the midfield. The team could also get contributions from Eric Alexander, Zach Loyd and Jackson Goncalves.
FC Dallas will have a pair of experienced goalkeepers with Chris Seitz, a starter last season for Philadelphia, joining up with MLS all-time wins leader Kevin Hartman.
Hartman will likely be between the sticks against an overhauled Fire team that finished 9-12-9 in 2010. With 36 points, Chicago finished well-behind the postseason cut-off of 46.
To rebound this season, the Fire will have to make up for some key losses. Forward Brian McBride and defender C.J. Brown both retired. Freddie Ljungberg headed off to play for perennial Scottish Premier League power Celtic and Mexican forward Nery Castillo is with Aris in the Greek Super League.
That means the Fire will likely rely on midfielder Marco Pappa, who had a team-best seven goals and five assists, and 21-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Chicago, though, might relegate Patrick Nyarko, who had a team-best 10 assists in 2010, to the second team.
Right now, I know who is starting, but I want to wait for the match to say, coach Carlos de los Cobos told the leagues website.
Dallas has retained the Brimstone Cup every season since 2001 and clinched that trophy in 2010 - and a playoff berth - with a 3-0 victory at Pizza Hut Park.