A fairly large crowd was in attendance, responding to the glorious weather that came through thankfully on this weekend. Not too cold, and mercifully it wasn't hot enough to make the East Stand seats feel like molten hot lava in the form of plastic chairs. Yet.
Heading into this game I have to admit, I wasn't confident in the team getting away with a win on this particular day. We had Peter Luccin out, Hendry Thomas suspended, and AndrewJacobson out against a Portland midfield that pretty much dominated us all last season. FC Dallas went out there with something to prove it seemed like, and the East Stand was the perfect place to be to witness it all play out.
Everyone was curious to see Victor Ulloa and how he performed on this night against a Portland team that showed us up last year. I have to admit my slight bias here, I too am a Wylie native and am really excited to see our small but growing town put on the soccer map with Ulloa. Overall it was a solid performance from Victor in the center of the pitch, but it certainly didn't start off that way from what I saw. There were some definite nerves to be shaken out of him at the beginning of the game and I believe the more touches he got of the ball the more confident he became. The fact that his teammates would consistently get him touches of the ball, even if they were just short passes, it seemed like it got him focused and really looked to have settled his first-start jitters.
Benitez Shines...With Help
Good reviews have been pouring out over the performance of Benitez, his ability to get forward, and the deliveries into the box that result in goal-scoring opportunities (see first FCD goal of the season and the first goal of this game for reference) (also, doesn't he fall down on both those deliverances?). I admit, Benitez was getting forward for most of the match, and it was as if the defenders were absolutely tired of chasing after Castillo only to have Benitez charge down and make a cutting run. His offensive work, solid, but his ability to track back after going forward was questioned by a few Portland counterattacks. I counted at least 3 times during the game that Benitez was beaten for pace by a Timber. Thankfully, it seems like the team began to cover for him towards the end of the game in a way that made perfect sense. When Benitez would be caught out of position, I noticed Michel would slide into his natural LB position and cover until Benitez got back. There was a couple of times where it was like we had 2 LBs on the field! Excellent teamwork from a team that is really coming together.
10 v 10: Advantage FC Dallas?
Both teams had a player sent off, true, but was it really an even match after that? After the sending off, I could see that the compact game being played earlier loosened up quite a bit. In hindsight, it seems like the double-offing assisted FCD more than it did Portland with the acres of space that was then available. This speed on the wings helped open the game up for Dallas and kept Portland on the back foot for most of the game it seemed like. I remember thinking right before the first goal "What in the world is Keel doing in the box?!?!" Then promptly went nuts when Blas was in the right place at the right time to head the ball into the net. Portland didn't commit the numbers Dallas was committing to the attack, and it's not something we saw last year.
How did you guys like Victor Ulloa? Be honest! Have any of y'all noticed that it looks like our players fill-in for each other much more often this season than in seasons past like Michel did for Benitez on Saturday? Strange reffing game, but 3 points are exactly what we needed visiting our ol' pals down in Houston.