But can FCD keep up the pace?
A landmark win propelled FC Dallas Friday night to second place in the Western Conference. Vanquished at the feet of a ten-man FCD squad was Real Salt Lake. To add insult to injury, RSL’s six game unbeaten run was ended by a Dallas side who is now unbeaten in ten.
Nothing was auspicious about the night. The heat was miserable and boiling the pitch at over a 100 degrees by kickoff. It was pretty much par for the course for an August in North Texas.
However, intensity on the field picked up heavily as the first half continued. Beckerman, Schuler, and Blas Perez seemed ready to throw their gloves off from the first minute. Perez had a small shot at Beckerman midway through the half and another at Schuler soon after.
But Blas Perez’s presence as instigator and disruptor came to a full head just before the half. Schuler’s foul on the Panamanian in the RSL defensive third, followed by a Schuler push and a Blas flop sealed their fates. Blas, already on a yellow, was given a second for simulation, as Schuler was given a mere yellow card despite raising his arms and shoving another opponent (let’s not forget the kisses blown, either, which are the greater affront to humanity).
Unfortunately it was the most eventful aspect of the first half. Nothing about the game had opened it up; both sides seemed stymied by the heat (and rightfully so). Regardless of the mistakes made by the officiating in handling the Perez-Schuler situation, it set up an epic second half with Dallas going into the locker room a man down.
Despite the lack of an extra striker to field Pareja’s men set off on the attack early in the second half. JeVaughn Watson’s goal in the 50th minute from a corner was the equivalent of waking a sleeping giant: RSL responded with an expected barrage of shots, crosses, and flood after flood of attackers foraying forward into the FCD box.
RSL remained indignant and frustrated at the lack of points to show for their efforts. Dallas fought for time to breath and moments to counter attack. Fabian Castillo was yet again the answer, netting his third game winning goal of the season in the 74th minute on a beautifully crafted counter attack. Nat Borchers was left heaped in his wake as a result, and from that point forward a frustrated RSL heaped several more assaults at Raul Fernandez’s net.
Eventually something stuck: Olmes Garcia’s goal in stoppage time was unluckily too little, too late. Despite the searing heat, the streaking RSL, and ten men on the pitch FC Dallas topped their conference rivals.
A moral victory would have been to settle for a draw and bunker. Pareja has rarely chosen this option throughout the season and given his team’s form shouldn’t be expected to at all by this point. The cohesiveness of his team, and the spirit shared within was embodied on the sidelines at the final whistle. Fabian Castillo, pacing and motioning frantically at the side of Pareja eagerly awaited one last shrill note from the ref, and as he did instantly embraced his manager. Others on the bench joined in.
If anything the moment proved unequivocally that there is substance behind this magic. Pareja’s side and their unbeaten run is not any sort of flash in the pan or run of luck. That final whistle was cathartic more than anything, as it brought joy, relief, and closure: FCD had topped a team popularly perceived to be their better with nearly insurmountable odds laid against them.
FCD still has the gauntlet laid before them. A return trip to RSL is in the cards, along with visits to LA, and a visit from Seattle still pending. Vancouver comes at the very end of a busy, busy stretch in September. This is really where the season can be made and lost: it seems that Pareja and his squad have clearly made a solid case as the playoff push continues forward.