FC Dallas managed a heavy 5-2 victory away to Guatemalan champions CD Suchitepequez on the road last night, a result that was enough to see FCD advance to the latter rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.
It wasn’t all easy going though from the start, however, as the home side took a shock 2-0 lead inside the first twenty-two minutes through a fortuitous Tesho Akindele own goal and a close range Wilson Morales finish. Dallas rallied back well though with headers from Carlos Gruezo and captain Matt Hedges ensuring that the game was level at halftime before another fortuitous goal from Atiba Harris saw the Hoops go in front just after the break. Then, two goals in the final minutes put a seal on Dallas’ victory with a Miguel Gonzalez own goal and a long range Carlos Lizarazo blast, both arriving after Suchi went down to ten men after Rene Maltes’ ridiculous challenge saw him get sent off.
Although FCD went to Central America below full strength with several missing key players through either injury or technical decisions, the players who did play got the job done and Dallas can now look forward to a first ever CCL knockout stage campaign, which will start against Panamanian champions Arabe Unido in the quarterfinals in the spring.
Just as we saw on Sunday and several times throughout the year, the team’s strong mentality and never-say-die attitude was on display again last night in Mazatenango. Falling 2-0 down in a hostile environment leaving the team on the brink of elimination would have probably shattered the spirits of many, but not this group of players. Instead, they continued to battle hard and managed to claw their way back into the game relatively quickly before seizing complete control of it in the second half to produce a dominant victory on the road. It was just another testament to how united the players are and how they don’t let adverse situations change them too much. Whether they’re 3-0 up or 2-0 down, their approach is similar as is their demeanor, which is a great sign of a team with a winning mentality which cannot be broken easily.
Despite the shock of a bad start, collectively and individually the players did well to turn things around relatively quickly. Harris and Maynor Figueroa performed well to exploit the spaces that Suchi was leaving behind on the flanks and got several crosses into the penalty area. Hedges was as usual a stalwart at the back again and came up big up front as well while Gruezo had his best offensive display as an FCD player yet with a goal and an assist, while continuing to impose himself in midfield and produce several ball winning interceptions while also maintaining a high pass succession rate. Mauro Rosales was everywhere as he proved to be too much of a menace for Suchi to handle while Lizarazo and Michael Barrios also had impressive cameos off the bench. Jesse Gonzalez had a decent game in goal too after the shock of conceding twice early on and made a fantastic save at 3-2 which kept Dallas in front.
Another positive was that Oscar Pareja was able to rest some key players ahead of Sunday’s Supporters’ Shield decider and the MLS Cup playoffs. Aubrey David sat this one out because of suspension but Chris Seitz, Walker Zimmerman, Victor Ulloa, Kellyn Acosta, and Maximiliano Urruti were all left out for technical reasons, while Akindele, Barrios, Rosales, and Ryan Hollingshead got a little rest themselves during the game. Although it was a risk with this game being important in the team’s continental adventure, it was a gamble that paid off and FCD managed to win comfortably whilst still resting several players in the process. That just showcases the quality in depth that the club has to count upon no matter who is or isn’t there to play.
And last but not least of course, advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage for the first time is a pretty big deal for the club. After somehow failing to do so in their first crack at this competition in 2011/12 despite winning their first two games on the road, one of them in Mexico, they managed to fare better this time and got the job done, while being able to rest key players along the way throughout the group stage. The team has done well to prove its worth on the home scene in domestic competitions, but now they’ll have the opportunity to do the same internationally as well in the spring as they get to compete with the best that North and Central America has to offer, which is a worthy challenge for this team to take on.
Defensively the team had a few problems and as a result ended up conceding from Suchi’s first two chances in the game. While they performed well offensively to turn things around, the concerns at the back were present up until Maltes’ dismissal after which Dallas took control of the match. Going 2-0 down in Central America was a worry that made things harder than they needed to be, but thankfully the team got the job done and can move on from this experience with plenty of lessons learned.
It was also unfortunate that the team was part of a physical and at times reckless game with a total of thirty-three fouls amassed over the course of ninety minutes. Most of the dirty play came from the Guatemalans and luckily FCD managed to avoid any disciplinary problems during the game unlike the home side, but to have been part of a heated game like this just days after losing Mauro Diaz to a long term injury was not something Pareja and co would have wanted. Fortunately the team managed to avoid any serious injury problems in this one, but there were a couple of scares after some rough tackles from the Central Americans during the course of the match.
FC Dallas will play against Panamanian side Arabe Unido in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, with the first leg set to take place at Toyota Stadium in late February and the return taking place in Panama City just a week later.
Before that though, there is the small matter of finishing up the 2016 season still to get done. FCD will visit LA Galaxy on Sunday in Carson where a draw will be enough to win the club its first ever Supporters’ Shield. If they do that they will be the first team in franchise history that will have won at least two trophies.