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Perfect storm of misfortune strikes FC Dallas
by Ridge Mahoney, May 21st, 2008 7AM
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Three slices of advice to MLS coaches wishing to keep employment:

1) don't lose at home;

2) don't lose at home in front of a buzzing, capacity-plus crowd never before seen in your facility that includes incredulous management execs, and;

3) don't get blown out 5-1 by a team incapable of shutting out 11 tykes on tricycles.

In admitting he'd consulted with Hunt Sports Group executives before dismissing Steve Morrow, president and general manager Michael Hitchcock cited the team's under-achievements, its poor record at home, and yes, that humiliating thrashing at Pizza Hut Park inflicted as much by Edson Buddle and Alvaro Pires as Landon Donovan and David Beckham.

Morrow, moved up to the top job in December 2006, after serving as Colin Clarke's assistant, followed him out the door after coaching just 38 games and recording a 15-15-8 record. As he did when he jettisoned Clarke, Hitchcock cited a wealth of talent unable to generate commensurate results as the primary reason.

"I just felt the team was heading in the wrong direction and that we needed to make this change at this time," said Hitchcock, whose contract, like that of Morrow, expires this year. "Obviously, losing 5-1 at home to Los Angeles in front of our biggest crowd ever [22,331] was a factor."

Not winning any of its past four games after opening the season 2-0-2 also weighed into Hitchcock's decision, as did the presence of HSG executive Dan Hunt, son of the late Lamar Hunt, who watched FCD utterly collapse after surrendering a Chris Klein goal in the 25th minute following a good start by FCD, including a Steve Cronin tip-over of an audacious 40-yard effort by Kenny Cooper.

"That's the way soccer can go," says Cooper, who assisted on Dominic Oduro's goal in the 54th minute. "It was an interesting game. We weren't able to score and they were very efficient in front of goal."

Buddle danced past three defenders untouched to score the second, defender Duilio Davino deflected a Donovan cross past keeper Dario Sala for No 3, and some sluggish defending by Sala and Davino enabled Pires to set up Buddle to knock in the fourth.

"I shared my thoughts with ownership," said Hitchcock. "I got their thoughts and they provided their input. You never want to make these decisions on your own, you always want to provide an opportunity for people you respect and trust to share their thoughts."

Said Cooper, son of the former NASL goalkeeper and MISL Baltimore Blast coach Ken Sr., "I didn't think anything like this was coming. I really am surprised. I enjoyed playing for him very much and I am sad for him. I think he'll go on and do really well for himself."

Cooper, who joined the team in February, 2006, will play for his third MLS head coach this weekend when Marco Ferruzzi sends the team out on an interim basis against Real Salt Lake, with a fourth coach to follow when a replacement for Morrow is selected. Hitchcock said that process is just beginning, which suggests the Galaxy goalfest so disgruntled team management that it decided immediate change was needed.

Yet tension had been building, and not just because of the winless streak. Team management has refused to clarify or comment about the dismissal last week of assistant coach Jorge Alvial, who'd been hired by the team in January. Losing for the second time in four home matches this season exacerbated one of Hitchcock's pet peeves.

"If you look at our home record over the past year and a half, I think we've had 30 home games that were actual ticketed matches in all competitions, and we've won 10 of those," said Hitchcock, who is absolutely correct when toting up regular-season, playoff, U.S. Open Cup, SuperLiga, and preseason games. "I am a firm believer in that when we bring our fans out to the stadium, we need to make sure that this is truly a homefield advantage for the team.

"When we do that, we need the team to respond and reward the fans for coming out and supporting us. Our home record has not been great, and the challenge that we've been having as a team and heading in the wrong direction sort of manifested itself with the 5-1 loss on Sunday."

Dallas fizzled at home in the last two months of the 2007 season. It lost the Open Cup final to the Revs, 3-2, and went 1-3-2 in its last six regular-season games before beating Houston narrowly, 1-0, at home in the Western Conference semifinals. Houston romped in the return leg, 4-1.

Not confirmed were rumors of a team meeting called by Morrow last week to discuss the previous game, a 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake, in which he and several players allegedly bickered over blame for the defeat. Kyle Beckerman nutmegged Sala for the winning goal after the keeper had charged out to contest an Andy Williams chip. Sala had drilled a ricochet off teammate Andre Rocha that Javier Morales rolled home for the first goal.

An excellent flying save by Sala had denied Fabian Espindola in the 10th minute, and Davino had robbed RSL of a goal by clearing a shot off the goal line in the second half. As they had done the previous week in a 0-0 tie at San Jose, Dallas flubbed numerous scoring chances against RSL.

"I'm not aware of anything like that," said Cooper of players being singled out for blame at a meeting. "We thought we deserved to get something out of that game but I don't know anything about anything else."

Hitchcock hasn't set a timetable to name a replacement. SMU head coach Schellas Hyndman is a favored candidate each time Dallas fires a head coach, as is former head coach Dave Dir. Hitchcock may be hampered in his search by teams refusing to let him talk with current assistant coaches, such as Paul Mariner (New England), John Spencer (Houston) and Robert Warzycha (Columbus).

"This decision was made purely on the fact we're not headed in the right direction, man," said Hitchcock. "If you look at our results as of late, on the field it does not meet the expectations that we have for this franchise.

"By no means do I think we're past the point of no return for this season. We feel we've got a talented roster and I feel confident that when this team plays up to its potential, it can contend for championships."



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