[MLS] Depending on point of view and circumstance, a tie can be a triumph, or a disaster, or a fair result. For the right team in the right setting, it can also be a character-building experience, one that ratchets up team belief and confidence. No team has tied more games in 2010 than MLS Cup finalist FC Dallas.
Dallas finished even 14 times during the regular season -- posting a 12-4-14 record -- and via a 1-1 deadlock at Rio Tinto Stadium Nov. 6 edged past defending champ Real Salt Lake, 3-2, in the conference semifinals. Until FCD lost its last two games of the regular season, it had reeled off a league-record 19-game unbeaten streak that included nine ties.
MLS teams that tie a lot of games are often mocked for their records listing heavily toward the right, but a 10-0-9 record during a five-month interval is mighty impressive, and so is a record-tying four losses in a 30-game season. A team that ties a lot and also wins a lot is hard to beat. Right?
During the unbeaten run, during which he rarely mentioned the ‘S’ word, Coach Schellas Hyndman found positive messages in ties, even those at home, which are seldom reasons for celebration. “When you lose focus on what you’re trying to do on the field, and you play scared for a streak, it can be difficult,” said Hyndman Monday during a teleconference call. “We never really talked about it that much.
“I’m always looking for positive things to say to the guys so when they go onto the field their minds are set. If the streak was still going I’d really only say something about it after the game. At times, guys weren’t that excited about a tie. They were upset that we didn’t get a win. I would turn that into a positive, talking about, ‘Guys, our streak is still alive.’”
A postgame message of survival emanated Sept. 22 after FCD needed to rally furiously at Pizza Hut Park for a 2-2 tie with New England. The downtrodden Revs, a shell of the team that had qualified for the playoffs in every season since 2002, jumped on top early and doubled their lead midway through the second half.
Missing keeper Kevin Hartman, defender Ugo Ihemelu, and captain and midfielder Daniel Hernandez, FCD also fluffed a penalty kick when David Ferreira drilled his attempt wide. The chances of even a point and continuance of the streak seemed as likely as, well, Dallas reaching an MLS Cup for the first time. So it has come to pass.
Given a second chance from the penalty spot, Ferreira converted in the 80th minute, and in stoppage time he worked a superb one-two of chipped passes with substitute Eric Avila to play a ball to the far post that Jeff Cunningham put away. FCD had been outplayed at home by one of the league’s also-rans yet stolen a point with a spectacular goal in the waning seconds.
“At the start of the season Schellas was talking to us and telling us that this team had character,” says Ihemelu, who missed that game while sitting out more than two months with post-concussion problems. “I believed him, and having to watch from the sideline has shown me that there’s nothing but character on this team. Guys have stepped in and really grinded it out. We really fight for every point and for every chance.
“Like when he played New England, we were down 2-0 and it wasn’t our best game and our best player missed a PK. We could have given up and just said, ‘We’ll pick up points next time.’ But the guys just kept fighting, even without a few starters, the guys just kept going and got us a point out of the game. That’s an example of what our team has done all season.”
Ihemelu was acquired by FC Dallas in late August of last year, exchanging addresses with defender Drew Moor, who has helped Colorado reach MLS Cup as well. Ihemelu, who played for Hyndman at SMU, has returned to the starting lineup and helped set up one of FCD’s goals in its 3-0 dismantling of the Galaxy on Sunday night.
“Last year, before I got here,” says Ihemelu, “we were in those kinds of games and Schellas told us after the New England game, ‘Last year, we wouldn’t have done that.’ That shows how much the players respond to each other and just grind it out. For the full 90 minutes we’re running and working for each other.”
Only one past MLS champion has been so tie-friendly. The 2006 Dynamo tied 13 of its 32 games, but no other MLS Cup winner has registered double-digit deadlocks since the shootout was dropped and ties sanctioned prior to the 2000 season.
Still, a mindset of resisting defeat is better than the alternative, especially when said team also has many methods by which to win. In regular-season games it conceded the first goal, Dallas won once, tied twice, and tied six times. A point per game is hardly spectacular but it was the best such record this season in MLS. No team figures to fall behind in a final, but FCD seems well-equipped to handle such a setback should it occur.
“I identify this team in the same way as the teams in LA when I won championships there,” said Hartman of the 2002 and 2005 MLS Cup winners. “We have a bunch of depth, guys are willing to step up under pressure and relish the opportunity to help out the group.
“I think for the past number of years if I was down a goal there weren’t many teams that could come back the way that this team has. I’m not sure what the percentages are but this is a team that you could never count out.”
Says Hyndman of his players, “They don’t go out for awards, they don’t go out for streaks, they go out to give a good performance.”