To those of you who haven’t voted for Raul Fernandez, the Peruvian number one Raul Fernandez, as your MLS All-Star keeper choice: shame on you. Yet again his brilliance was on display, keeping Dallas within an arm’s reach of high-flying Portland at Jeld-Wen field this past Saturday. Seven saves, none of them easy saves, were a massive difference between a tight 1-0 away loss for FCD and a goal glut that could have done serious damage to FCD’s midseason momentum.
While the Peruvian’s performance may have been his best of the season (on top of an ever-growing list of sublime stints in goal), the striker-less formation forced upon Dallas by the 30th minute may have been more determining. Prior to the game, Kenny Cooper’s father had suffered a heart attack, prompting the starting striker to fly home and putting Eric Hassli as the target man up top. We all hope and pray that Kenny’s father and family are well at home at this time.
Given the fact that FCD has three experienced target men to sift through each game day, dumping Hassli up top was not a bad situation. As a matter of fact it was quite exciting: the Frenchman could gain his first MLS start for FCD and prove he was worth the Brek Shea money spent to obtain him. In all honesty, we have not seen him go a full 90 at the top level this entire season. Pulling up limp before a third of the game could even go by no one could have predicted; it was a cruel twist for Hassli.
Nevertheless, FCD’s forays into the Portland backfield still went on. In fact, overlapping runs and services made by Zach Loyd, and the ever accurate set piece or two from Michel actually kept Jeld-Wen wondering if FCD could snatch a goal without a proper striker up top. Raul Fernandez played like a man possessed: “Man of the Match” almost is an unworthy description of his performance.
Regardless, the first fifteen minutes of the second half epitomized the game. A microcosm of actions and consequences filled that time frame, displaying perfectly the limitations of FCD and the boldness of Portland for the full 90 minutes. Portland’s offensive prowess was evident through Al-Hassan’s 47th minute attempt on frame from outside the penalty area, Nagbe’s superb bit of footwork and back post curler, and Piquionne’s shot that later clanged off the upright. It was a shelling FCD took well and countered against in kind. But without a battering ram of a striker to breech Portland’s defense and provide a solid target, many of FCD’s quality services went without any note. The best of these came from Zach Loyd, overlapping Jackson on the right flank and slotting a negative ball into a sparsely-marked box, only to find no striker or run to capitalize on the chance. This fifteen minutes was so emblematic of the struggles of FCD and the strength of Portland at Jeld-Wen on Saturday.
The good news is that Blas Perez will be back from international duty on Saturday. Kenny Cooper, whose father is reportedly recovering, may be back as well. If not, another start for Fabian Castillo could be in the cards. The young Columbian caused multiple broken knees and moments of confusion for Jack Jewsbury and the Portland defense Saturday afternoon.
Does this loss stunt FCD’s momentum? A bit, if anything. A victory at Portland will be difficult for any MLS opponent, coming out with a draw would have been excellent, and even a 1-0 loss without a proper striker up top is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, Dallas created several moments of danger in the Portland box throughout the match; this is a testament to the team’s offensive options and versatility. Many of these moments were in direct response to strong Portland ventures into the Dallas backfield. So, unlike 2012, this Dallas side has proven that even under duress and difficult circumstances they will not lie down and accept fate. At least a rematch waits at home in the USOC in one week.
On another note, it is simply good to hear that Kenny Cooper, Sr. is recovering and with his family. The FCD family’s thoughts, prayers, and empathy are theirs.
(image courtesy of USA Today Sports Images)