FC Dallas came through, but only just, in a thrilling and nerve-racking Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fourth round tie against USL affiliate Oklahoma City Energy at SMU's Westcott Field on Wednesday evening. Jordan Rideout gave the visitors a shock lead midway through the first half but saw his effort doubled by a Carlos Lizarazo brace, his first FCD goals, that gave Dallas a halftime lead. Just as it appeared Dallas would hold on for a somewhat sluggish victory, Michael Thomas popped up to head in an equalizer from a corner for Energy in the final minute of normal time to send the game into extra time.
Extra time didn't bring much, with both sets of players evidently dragging themselves through the thirty minute period, and it came down to a penalty shootout to decide who would advance to the last sixteen of the cup competition. First six penalties on both sides saw each convert five, with Matt Hedges and Wojciech Wojcik the lone failures from the spot, before Cyprian Hedrick sent his wildly over the bar and Collin Bonner put away the winning penalty to send FCD through.
FCD, who missed out on a U.S. Open Cup final two years ago after losing the semifinal at home to Philadelphia Union on penalties, just about managed to get the job here and can now look forward to today's draw where their path to the final will all become clearer as the club chases some silverware for the first time since 1997, their one and only title won which came in this very competition.
The main positives to take out of this game are the impressive performances of players who haven't really seen the field much this year but got the opportunity to show what they can do and seized them well. Lizarazo, who struggled in his first FCD start last month at San Jose, fared much better this time around in a roaming playmaker role and scored two very well taken goals which is undoubtedly going to boost his confidence going forward and maybe spur him on to become a key asset for the club in the second half of 2016. He also made it through the entire 120 minutes of play, which is the greatest sign yet that he's finally reaching optimal physical levels and is ready to take on a more prominent role in this team. His display here was undoubtedly the biggest positive of the evening.
Other positives though were the showings of youngsters Aaron Guillen and Coy Craft who looked solid throughout the fixture. Guillen switched several teams between the centerback and leftback positions but looked capable defensively and steady all evening which, along with his performance in the March win over D.C. United - his only other appearance for FCD to date, indicates that he is a player with talent and one to keep an eye on for the future as he continues to gain experience and grow as a full time professional player in the league.
Craft, who was on loan at OKC earlier this season, was a lively threat on the right wing for much of his time on the pitch and managed to bag two assists in only his second ever start for the club and although the opposition maybe wasn't the strongest, it was a good display from him and one that should see him stay in the club's plans in the medium to long term future.
Another positive was the amount of chances the team managed to create which, again may not have been against the best of teams, but it's a pleasing sign nonetheless and that's undoubtedly going to bring more confidence to the attacking players which is always a good thing to have as the season progresses and the games start to come thick and fast.
As you'd expect in such a labored victory over a third division team, there were negatives to take out of this game as well. The biggest one is the fact that the team was pushed to play an unnecessary extra thirty minutes for their own failure to kill the game off sooner and were lucky to avoid injuries in the process, with Zach Loyd and Mauro Diaz escaping close ones where they required treatment and managed to carry on playing without any further problems.
Mauro Diaz playing 120 minutes and Timo Pitter not getting any was a disappointing outcome as many expected Pitter to make his first start for the club here and almost certainly at least an appearance, yet he didn't get on the pitch at any point at all. All FCD managed to get out of that in the end is a near injured Diaz and a disgruntled Pitter who lost a chance to get minutes and continue his development and if he's not going to get playing time in games like these, then his FCD career could well be over before it's even started sooner rather than later.
Another couple of disappointments came from the poor defending which led to two soft goals for the visitors and Maximiliano Urruti's failure to score for the eleventh game in a row despite starting which is starting to become a real worry and question marks are growing each week over whether he's good enough to be the starting striker and if FCD should be in the market this summer to explore the avenues of signing another one. With every passing game that he doesn't score in, the concerns keep getting bigger and bigger over his goal scoring abilities and it's not improving at all in recent weeks.
FCD got the job done here, but barely. After learning their fate in the U.S. Open Cup draw today, they will turn their attentions to Sunday's trip to Sporting Kansas City where the team will be keen to extend its five-game league unbeaten streak and carry on its good form as they continue to march towards achieving a high Western Conference seed for the MLS Cup playoffs in the fall.