This write-up was looking quite a bit different around the 90th minute.
Dallas had given up two goals, both the result of bad defending. I was ready to lay into their lack of urgency on the flanks, and their (lack of) closing down of space in general. But as I was writing my criticism, something incredible happened: the refereeing went from awful, to such abysmal, oceanic lows that new words will have to be devised to describe the officiating crew's ineptitude. Dallas had scored a goal, but no confirmation came from the officials. Instead, Sheanon Williams was being praised on air for his "clearance". The ball had quite clearly crossed the line, but the referee and his linesmen were not in position to spot it, robbing FC Dallas of their earned tally.
Dallas was going to lose through no fault of their own.
When the Phantom Goal was ruled off (ghosts aren't real, you see) for, apparently, not being a goal, Dallas fans and neutrals alike erupted in righteous indignation. The contest wouldn't end fairly, and the referees were to blame. At that point in time it was an accurate assessment. If the game had ended in such a manner, Dallas would have been robbed.
But the refereeing doesn't negate the very tired, very oddly managed display we got from the Toros.
The negatives were certainly there.
The Hoops looked about as tired as we have seen them all season. They were gassed by about the 35th minute onward and many of their mistakes came from either physical fatigue, or the mental fatigue that can make players commit a million errors they would not otherwise make.
Fabian Castillo had a blazing start, scaring Philadelphia's defenders out of their wits and running past them as if they were traffic cones. The problem with Castillo was the usual one: his brains clearly were not synced up with his legs. He ruined every other chance he created. All his speed and skill were useless once he found himself inside the Union's six yard box. It could be forgiven as "youthful inexperience", but it is his third year in MLS. If his decision making doesn't drastically improve soon, it will be clear why FCD signed such a promising youngster and not another European team.
He had a very poor tackle in the opening five minutes that saw him get one of the quickest yellow cards I have personally seen in an MLS game. His emotional intelligence, along with Jackson and Je-Vaughn Watson, would come to hurt Dallas in the end.
What can be said of his performance except "Ew"?
He was almost singularly to blame for the Union's first goal. There has been a lot of praise for Amobi Okugo's opening goal, and he deserves recognition for his effort. But that ball should never have reached him. Watson was the man on the play who was nearest to disrupt it, and he did not so much as move from his spot to stop it. It was an absolutely shocking lack of effort and one that I'm sure will not be lost on the coaching staff this week.
His first yellow card isn't particularly arguable. His second one... well, that was a very questionable call. The knees clearly clatter together, and while Watson may have sold the contact a little bit, that's hardly a second yellow card's worth of foul play. If every embellishment earned players a yellow card, MLS would be in a great deal of trouble.
Embellishment is not the same as a dive. Watson might have embellished, but he was not inventing contact that didn't occur. If every player who embellished got a yellow card, there would have been no players left on the field in the LA vs SJ match later that day.
The other negative is the way the second goal came about.
Dallas was being murdered on the flanks the entire game. There was very little pressure applied to the Union's wingers, who were allowed almost free rein right up until they reached the 18 yard box, and by that point the danger is already too pronounced to diffuse easily.
The second goal Dallas gave up could have easily occurred earlier in the game, if Jack McInerney could have hit the broadside of a barn on Saturday. The referees had no effect on the flank play. Dallas was horrid defending the wings before the red card, and after the red card as well. It was only through the Union's hilariously inept passing that Dallas was not down by two goals at the half. This is not to say our boys could not have had a goal or two in their favor as well (they could have), but the fact remains that the leeway given to Philadelphia was going to hurt the Hoops sooner or later. Whether that was by design or by poorly played defense is immaterial. Dallas was poor in defense, and it showed. Those two goals were not the fault of the officials.
Thank goodness Walker Zimmerman, who was shaky in the first fifteen minutes, jelled with Matt Hedges quickly and soon became integral to the reason Dallas managed to only give up two goals. Hedges in particular deserves praise for his effort, at one point clearing an incredibly dangerous pass by diving and heading it clear of danger. Not enough can be said about how thoroughly screwed FCD would have been without Hedges keeping the back line in some semblance of order.
If this sounds negative, it's only because I'm being honest. There were good things on display. Ferreira played as well as could be expected, and the Union were clearly scared of him. Blas put in another excellent shift. The make-shift back line was poor, but not as terrible as it could have been. Tenacity bought FCD a lot of wiggle room, that's for sure. But "heart" and "guts" only go so far. They don't last forever, and they won't save you from inadequate performances every game.
That being said...
Guts and Glory
This team has a pair to rival a mastodon's. Metaphorically, of course.
Blas Perez, David Ferreira, Kenny Cooper, Raul Fernandez and a few others deserve a medal made of pure platinum for sheer willpower. Many teams would have taken that goal line controversy and given up. It would be hard to blame them if that had happened. The officials certainly tried their darndest to make it much harder than it should have been.
We've seen other teams quit before this season. But not Dallas.
These men play so damned hard that even when they're not playing very well, I wouldn't trade them for any team in the world.
Even when they were down late in the dying seconds of the match, the Toros fought tooth and nail for every second ball. After the 70th minute, the Union had trouble maintaining or regaining possession as Dallas swarmed every loose ball to be found.
Through magic (that's the explanation I'm sticking with), they found reserves of stamina that were squirreled away somewhere in their bodies. The same stamina that eluded them earlier in the game was found and put to use as the game wore down. FCD was fueled by the single-minded desire to not lose a point where there was one to be taken. Tired legs and all, it worked.
Every team struggles for form, and Dallas is struggling at the moment. But when you can put out that kind of "oomph" into your game during those slumps? That's a very good sign. It's a song and dance that we have been through several times already this season, and yet it's one that we should be very grateful for.
Despite the criticism, make no mistake:
FC Dallas is a better "team" than almost any other team in the league.