The defending MLS champions were out-coached and outplayed in today’s first round matchup between the two Western Conference clubs, as FC Dallas got a late goal from Eric Avila to beat Real Salt Lake 2-1.
The match saw FC Dallas frantically try and win outright as they knew winning in Salt Lake City was something no club had done all season. Schellas Hyndman made some great tactical decisions throughout the match that ensured Dallas would go to Utah with an aggregate lead. David Ferreira, while he did not notch a goal or assist, helped set-up both goals and was the main cog in the Dallas offense.
The first half was Hyndman’s argument on why he should be the manager of the year. Salt Lake struck first in the fourth minute as Fabian Espindola took a pass over the top, fought off his defender and fired his shot past Kevin Hartman for the early 1-0 lead. And FC Dallas struggled early to equalize as RSL applied pressure on 3/4th of the pitch, harassing Dallas as soon as the defenders received possession. And every time Dallas was able to advance the ball into the offensive end, RSL prevented Ferreira from creating any chances; he and Kyle Beckerman became best friends in the first twenty minutes.
Hyndman responded in two ways, one planned and one unplanned. Halfway through the half he shifted Chavez to the right side of the pitch, which allowed FC Dallas to take advantage of Ned Grabavoy and create quality chances. The second change was replacing Milton Rodriguez with Jeff Cunningham in the thirty-second minute. Rodriguez was banged-up while attempting to score a few minutes prior on a close play in the box. Roughly ten minutes later Cunningham scored the equalizer by fighting off two defenders and making an athletic play to score. While it may have been the obvious substitution, it was a decision that would mirror another important decision later in the match.
The second half saw much of the same as the first: FC Dallas having a few chances at goal but Real holding on. Ferreira hit the post in the fifty-fifth minute in Dallas’s best chance early in the half. In the sixty-ninth minute, RSL’s second leading goal-scorer Javier Morales kicked Dax McCarty in the chest, leading to a yellow card. The problem was that he had received an earlier yellow for getting into a slap-fight, so Morales was sent off and will miss the return leg. FC Dallas returned the favor six minutes later when Atiba Harris went up for a ball with Will Johnson and threw an elbow that caught Johnson in the head. He was given a straight red, and will also sit out the next match.
FC Dallas continued to squander chances but apply pressure when in the eighty-seventh minute Hyndman took off Jair Benitez for Eric Avila. Just as the announcers were sharing that Dallas was going three across the backline for more offense, Ferreira found Avila who made a few moves and shot a bullet past a diving Rimando for the winning goal. Real Salt Lake challenged Kevin Hartman in extra time, but failed to score the equalizer.
So the teams will face off next Saturday with Dallas ahead in aggregate. But as I mentioned earlier RSL is undefeated at home and will need to continue that streak to have a chance at advancing in the playoffs. The loss today also ended their unbeaten streak but extended another one – they are 0-9-0 all-time in Pizza Hut Park.
But what do you think about the coaching decisions and both teams’ play? And did the crowd look as sparse as it did to me on Fox Soccer Channel, or was it just sparse on the sun side of the stadium? It certainly was not as loud as Colorado the other night.