The fourth weekend of the season is rather early for a rematch yet it's perhaps the ideal test for FC Dallas in its quest to solidify a standing among the league's elite, and further strengthen its new defensive system.
FCD starts a rough back-to-back run of games when it plays Chivas USA at Home Depot Center Sunday. Four days later, it hosts New England on the national ESPN2 broadcast. In six games against those two teams last year, including the U.S. Open Cup final it hosted against the Revs at Pizza Hut Park, FCD won just once and was outscored, 10-6. It lost all three games to the Revs, including a 1-0 home loss played at about this same time of the year.
Dallas beat New York, 2-0, last weekend to move into second place with a 1-0-2 record, a point behind surprising Western Conference leader Colorado. Yet those ties felt like losses; in both games, FCD conceded late equalizers, which a revamped defense is supposed to avoid, right?
"I am frustrated and all of my teammates and all the FC Dallas people they feel that," says midfielder Juan Toja, "but we have to learn and work on it, the last couple of minutes, the last couple of things, because the game is not over in 90 minutes, maybe 92 minutes. Soccer sometimes is very hard."
On the opening weekend FC Dallas took a 1-0 lead at home against Western Conference rival Chivas USA, but in the 84th minute Mexican defender Duilio Davino -- signed last winter to bolster the back line -- botched a simple trap and Maykel Galindo pounced on the error to score the equalizer.
A week later, Dallas blew a pair of one-goal leads in Houston, and wound up tied, 3-3, with the two-time defending champion netting its third goal in stoppage time off the foot of a rookie midfielder.
Head coach Steve Morrow has moved midfielder Arturo Alvarezup top to play with Kenny Cooper, and deployed Toja behind the two forwards. He's also used Ricardinho, Abe Thompson and Dominic Oduro up top, either as starters or off the bench, but he's sent out a three-man back line of Adrian Serioux (left), Davino (central), and Drew Moor in two of the three games. In the other match Aaron Pitchkolan took Moor's spot.
Davino's flub isn't the only mistake to cost FCD a goal. Keeper Dario Sala backed into a teammate going for a cross and when he couldn't reach the ball, Houston forward Franco Caraccio headed it into the empty net.
Signing Davino prompted Morrow to install a 3-4-1-2 system rather than the 4-4-2 the former Arsenal man used most of the time last year. Yet he's adamant that rigid adherence to any formation is secondary to cohesion and resilience.
"Duilio is doing well," says Morrow of the former Mexican international who tops the payroll at $400,000. "He's a little bit behind the other guys in terms of match fitness and it will be another couple of games before he gets up to 100 percent fitness. We've got to work him through that. He's got to play and build up his match fitness as we go along. He's a great experienced player. He brings a lot of stability to the back line and I think he'll get stronger and stronger as the season goes on."
Moor suffered the indignity of scoring an own goal against Houston after Serioux couldn't prevent rookie Geoff Cameron from hitting a hard centering pass into the six-yard box. With Brian Ching on his back, Moor tried to clear, but the ball bounced off both of his feet and dribbled over the goal line.
Unbeaten they may be but FCD players and coaches know the D has to be sharper or the W's won't be forthcoming. During the past four seasons, veteran defenders Greg Vanney, Steve Jolley, Cory Gibbs, Chris Gbandi and Carey Talley have come and gone.
"We have the same base plus Davino and [midfielder Andre] Rochaplaying now," says midfielder Juan Carlos Toja of additions to the regulars. "The first game I score but in soccer sometimes you don't play good but you score and win and get three points and that's it. People don't remember if you play good or they play bad. No. You win, and that's it."