Two teams bidding to be the Western Conference representative in MLS Cup 2007 squared off Thursday night at Pizza Hut Park, and only one of them looked the part. Backed by a bewigged home crowd honoring the do and daring of Juan Toja, FC Dallas (13-11-5) threw what it had at Chivas USA but could do no better than a 0-0 tie.
Arturo Alvarez scythed into dangerous positions and in stoppage time rang a shot off the goalpost, but Denilson labored through another flashy yet ultimately impotent performance and came off in the 76th minute.
Chivas USA forwards Laurent Merlin and John Cunliffe retained the starting roles they'd filled in a 3-2 victory against Columbus last Saturday in which Cunliffe scored twice but they seldom threatened the Dallas goal. Coach Preki replaced them with Maykel Galindo and Ante Razov to midway through the second half, but left veteran defender Claudio Suarez on the bench.
Still, Chivas USA registered its league-best 14th shutout of the season and was denied an apparent goal by a very tight offside decision against Francisco Mendoza with 14 minutes to play.
Dallas attacker Kenny Cooper started his first match since suffering a broken leg June 9 and gradually found his feet while paired up front with Abe Thompson. He launched a hard shot from a tough angle in the 64th minute that forced a good save and eight minutes later nailed another strong effort to no avail.
Adrian Serioux played his second straight game at central midfield and buttressed the middle. A raking shot by Serioux forced a sparkling save from Chivas USA keeper Brad Guzan, who also kicked away what would have been a storybook goal by Toja before he twice thwarted Cooper.
At the other end, Dallas keeper Ray Burse faced just one shot on goal, a slow roller by Sacha Kljestan. Chivas USA stepped up the pressure after referee Brian Hall sent off Bobby Rhine in the 81st minute with a straight red card after he barked abusive language at the official. Kljestan shot wide, and both Razov and Galindo also misfired.
Dallas coach Steve Morrow must decide if the Denilson experiment needs another visit to the lab when the regular season concludes at home against Kansas City Oct. 20. Can he afford to indulge in pseudo-samba or does he go with a more straightforward - and successful -- approach from a combination of Toja, Alvarez, Cooper, Serioux, Pablo Richetti, Dax McCarty, et al?
Chivas USA (15-6-7), now on an 11-game undefeated streak, trails league leader D.C. United by two points in the overall standings and can clinch the Western Conference by beating Colorado Sunday at Home Depot Center.
Oct. 11 in Frisco, Texas
FC Dallas 0 Chivas USA 0.
FC Dallas -Burse, Rhine, Moor, Pitchkolan, Wagenfuhr, Alvarez, Serioux, Toja, Denilson (McCarty, 76), Cooper (Oduro, 84), Thompson.
Chivas USA - Guzan, Zotinca, Hernandez, Thomas, Bornstein, Kljestan, Marsch (Vaughn, 61), Nagamura, Mendoza, Merlin (Galindo, 68), Cunliffe (Razov, 65).
Yellow Cards: FC Dallas - Alvarez 80; Chivas USA - Mendoza 68.
Red Card: FC Dallas - Rhine 81.