By: Rees Linn
FC Dallas managed to hang on to a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake on Saturday to advance past their western conference foes to the Western conference finals. Dallas won the first leg 2-1 at Pizza Hut Park a week earlier, and weathered a flurry of attacks and an intense playoff environment to finish the series 3-2 on aggregate. The series essentially mirrored Dallas’s season, which saw the hoops consistently earn three points at home and at least a point in away matches.[picappgallerysingle id=”10092826″]
During the first fifteen minutes of the match, Real Salt Lake demonstrated why they are the MLS’s defending champions as they attacked with fantastic energy and belief that the goals they needed were inevitable. Dangerous interchanges between the Salt Lake midfielders and cutting runs from Fabian Espindola kept the Dallas backline unorganized in the early going. Dallas, whether by choice or not, was forced into a defensive shell, and their chances were limited to counter attacks through the wings.
Despite getting forward in limited numbers, Dallas’s counter attacking play always had an element of bite, and it was one of these counterattacking ventures that resulted in the match’s first goal.
In the 17th minute, the ball found its way wide to the feet of David Ferreira who sent an early cross in to Brek Shea. The lanky winger used his chest to push the ball into the path of Dax McCarty who finished past Nick Rimando. It was a devastatingly smooth attacking move, and it completely changed the feel of the first half. Dallas never looked dominant in the match, but Salt Lake had momentarily lost the belief that they began the game with.
Still, Salt Lake continued to press the issue, and despite the overall ineffectiveness of Alvaro Saborio at striker, the Dallas backline didn’t look invulnerable to giving up an equalizer. Even though the overall play of Jackson Goncalves was positive at right back, the Brazilian looked out of position on several occasions, which only emphasized the need for Heath Pearce to recover from his hamstring injury before the conference final.
In the second half, Dallas looked less intent on pushing forward, and Salt Lake threw more and more into the attack. The play of Daniel Hernandez was absolutely crucial in disrupting the Salt Lake midfield, but it was the effort of Kevin Hartman in the Dallas goal that clearly deserved man of the match honors. In truth, it was only the veteran goal keeper that saved Dallas from an opponent that was clearly the better team on the night.
Throughout the second half, the Salt Lake strikers were able to find spaces in between Ugo Ihemelu and George John, and in the 80th minute, Nat Borchers drifted into one of these gaps to win a header – snapping it towards the far post, where Robbie Findley finished past Hartman.
The goal brought the score to 1-1, but despite the frantic search for a series leveling goal, the Dallas backline managed to seal the 3-2 victory on aggregate.
Now, with the conference final looming, Dallas has shown the skeptics through this series against the defending champions that not only are they capable of winning, but that they’re going to be tough to beat.