They may not speak of it often, but everyone in the FC Dallas locker room understands that something special in American professional soccer lies just over the horizon – if they can bear down and complete the difficult march toward it.
No club has achieved the so-called “treble.” And while no one around FCD is getting ahead of themselves, players and coaches certainly know what’s up. So says veteran goalkeeper Chris Seitz.
FC Dallas leads in Major League Soccer’s Supporters Shield chase, and the club is a virtual cinch for an MLS playoff spot, with a good chance at keeping home field advantage through the push for MLS Cup. And then there is a trophy within even closer reach; any history-making run would need to start Tuesday in Frisco, where this first piece of hardware now dangles.
FC Dallas meets New England in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final (9 p.m. CT; ESPN2, UDN), providing FCD the chance to lay hands on its first major trophy since 1997. Any “treble” talk would die quickly if Seitz and his side can’t exploit home field advantage – something the club has done superbly over the last two years under manager Oscar Pareja – and seize the late summer night at Toyota Stadium in the northern Dallas suburb of Frisco.
FC Dallas’ starting goalkeeper says the games have been coming so fast and furious over the last two months – only Dallas is alive in three ongoing competitions, MLS league play, the Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League – that there hasn’t been much time for idle dreaming. At the same time …
“Everyone knows it’s there, and everyone knows we’re in a good spot,” Seitz said of the treble talk.
“This is what we’re built for,” he said of all the opportunities now coming into view, including the potential second Open Cup crown. “Last year we go close to MLS Cup and to Supporters Shield, so we brought in new acquisitions this year to give us the opportunity to get there. We know we are exactly where we want to be; we have put ourselves in contention to do all this.”
It’s not just the chance to do something special in American professional soccer that adds weight to Tuesday’s nationally televised night. The tournament carries special significance for this club, long under Hunt Family ownership. The U.S. Open Cup tournament is named for the man who built Toyota Stadium, Lamar Hunt, who did so much to help American professional soccer thrive. FCD manager Oscar Pareja has spoken often about it before, citing his respect for American soccer’s foremost pioneer, who died in 2006.
“It does mean a lot to this club because Mr. Lamar Hunt’s name is there,” said Pareja, who played eight seasons in Dallas, left briefly and then returned to take the manager’s seat in 2014. “We always consider it very important for us to compete and to try to win it.”
He already has the best winning percentage of any manager in the club’s 21 years. And that record doesn’t include wins in this year’s march toward the Open Cup. One of his signature results came a month ago in Los Angeles, where FCD rallied late from a goal behind to claim an Open Cup semifinal win at Los Angeles. Center back Matt Hedges and midfielder Victor Ulloa hit the goals in extra time, both off of corner kicks, as Dallas advanced into its first Open Cup final since a 2007 loss to New England.
“It’s always been high priority on our list,” Seitz said of the tournament, which dates to 1914. “We’ve gotten close a couple of times, and then we went out pretty early last year. So for us, we take this seriously anytime there is a trophy on the line, especially one with owner’s name on it, that means a lot. Obviously, it means a lot to the Hunt family and to the entire organization.”
Something else is adding just a little more pressure to the home team in this one: the legacy of a club that has not won anything in a long, long time.
Tomorrow, we go for our 1st trophy since '97.— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) September 12, 2016
This is the must-watch look at that amazing team, told first-hand. pic.twitter.com/GKD6AQeHJU
No professional soccer team in the country’s top tier has gone as long without a major trophy. Dallas’ drought stretches back to that 1997 Open Cup crown. The players being signed by FCD’s prodigious academy weren’t even born then; the team’s latest academy signing, Paxton Pomykal, was born more than two years after the club, then known as the Dallas Burn, outlasted DC United in a penalty kick tiebreaker to claim the 1997 Open Cup title.
Chicago has the next longest trophy-less streak, but the Fire’s window of less reaches back only to 2006.
“We’ve said it since the beginning of the year: we want to win something for this club and for us,” said Ulloa, one of the club’s homegrown players, now with 77 league starts. “We’re built to win a championship, and we’re built to step up.”
The “circumstance” for Dallas is quite a contrast to the opposition. As Dallas pursues a potentially historic season and is all but assured of an MLS playoff spot, Tuesday’s match may represent New England’s best chance to salvage a season going sideways. The Revs may have won two in a row, but they remain 7th in the Eastern Conference, one spot out of the playoffs. Five loses in the six previous matches had left New England’s 2016 season on the brink.
These divergent fortunes of 2016 were reflected in the clubs’ lineup selections during league matches on Saturday. While Revolution manager Jay Heaps deployed his first-choice selections, Pareja was able to limit the use of four important starters. Mauro Diaz and Michael Barrios started on the bench (but did enter after the break in a 1-0 loss to Colorado) while Ecuadorian international Carlos Gruezo and Honduran captain Maynor Figueroa got the night off.
That was the good news for FC Dallas. On the other side, Pareja’s team saw its club record home unbeaten streak fall away. FCD had not lost in 19 league games, going back to August of 2015. The streak was even longer including a CONCACAF Champions League win and a Round-of-16 Open Cup win back in July over Colorado.
Fabian Castillo set up one of the goals in the 2-1 tournament victory over Colorado. And the livewire Colombian winger stole it late for his team in a subsequent, quarterfinal Open Cup win at Houston. That was his final strike for the club; Castillo left soon afterward, pushing the team to accept a transfer into Turkey. Dallas is 5-2-3 in matches across all competitions since Castillo’s departure.
Seitz said Saturday’s league loss to Colorado won’t impact his team’s resolve nor its confidence before Tuesday’s final. “With trophies on the line, people have short memories,” said Seitz, who has been in Dallas since 2011, longer than almost all of his teammates. “We’re confident, we’re excited. To be able to go for trophies in front of you home fans, there is nothing better.”