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No Goals, No Problem

When a 0-0 draw is no big deal

 

My daughter and I at her first FC Dallas match Saturday night.

Saturday night I went to FC Dallas Stadium to see FC Dallas’ first home match in over a month.  I was excited because my seven-year-old daughter was with me for her first-ever professional soccer match.

The night began well.  We got my regular parking spot (strategically located for maximum post-game traffic evasion).  I enjoyed the way her grip tightened on my hand as the sights and sounds of the looming stadium enveloped her.  Bought her a cute FC Dallas shirt in the team shop.  Saw Dirk Nowitzki towering over a horde of fans, gamely dishing out autographs (he had been the honorary pre-game Lamar Hunt statue scarfer).  I had to explain to my daughter who the giant was and why folks were mobbing him.

My time-conscious daughter was very anxious to get to our seats before game time, so I abandoned my quest to get a program.  What dads won’t do for their daughters!  We made it to our fifth row seats with minutes to spare.  She was impressed with her unobstructed view and our proximity to the field.  I was impressed with our sitting on the shady side of the stadium.  My daughter enjoyed Hooper’s (FCD’s mascot) pre-game antics, though she was too timid for me to summon him for a photo op.

So far I had engineered an ideal start to our first pro soccer outing together.  If the sailing continued to be this smooth, I’d have a lifetime of father/daughter soccer bonding to look forward to.  But just as I was feeling pretty good about myself, I forgot to warn her about the bone-rattling fireworks explosions that always accompany the conclusion of the Star-Spangled Banner at FCD Stadium.  She cowered.  I comforted and apologized for the lack of a heads-up.  Her smile returned.  Whew!  Crisis averted.  When she was five, a similar incident might’ve ended our night at the national anthem.

I was glad to see Brek Shea in the starting eleven after ages away due to suspension and injury.  Things were looking up.  This was surely the night FC Dallas would turn their miserable season around!

And then the game started.  Neither Dallas nor Chivas USA was capable of stringing together three passes.  At one point a dude sitting on our row asked his kids if they “noticed a difference between their [Dallas & Chivas] passing and the game we saw this afternoon [Spain v. France Euro 2012 quarterfinal]?”  He and I exchanged knowing glances and I replied, “Just a little bit.”  I wanted to apologize to my daughter for the choppy, foul-a-minute mess we were witnessing.  But she seemed to think the teams were pretty good.

The real goal-scoring opportunities were few and far between for both sides (only four shots on target all night – 3 for Dallas, 1 for Chivas).  Dallas knocked on the door more often, but couldn’t close the deal.  As the match reached the 80th minute, I really began to sweat because I desperately wanted my daughter to experience a goal at her first MLS game.  Otherwise she might never want to go with me again!  They score actual goals in the soccer league she plays in.  Usually lots of them.  What was this 0-0 madness?

By the time we reached 85 minutes, I wanted to pull my hair out.  Not only were we dangerously close to my daughter not seeing a goal, but I could see the shades being pulled on Dallas’ season!  My daughter even sheepishly admitted she wouldn’t mind if Chivas scored – she just wanted to see a goal!  I wasn’t willing to stoop to that level of goal desperation, but I understood her plight.  The entire future of our father/daughter soccer bonding was at stake and these knuckleheads couldn’t even get a shot on goal!  I suddenly felt the urge to pitch-invade, to sprint toward the FCD players, screaming like a banshee, “Can’t you see my daughter needs you to score?!”

Alas, even with three minutes of stoppage time, Dallas couldn’t find the back of the net.  What a letdown.  What a dreary season.  Dallas’ longest winless streak since 2005.  But mostly I was disappointed for my daughter.  Bless her heart, she kept emphasizing how much she’d wanted to see a goal.  Why did I feel like such a failure?  They’re the ones who couldn’t kick the ball into the giant nets mounted at each end of the field!

But then, the goalless draw – that inexplicable bane of soccer’s existence for average American sports fans – was implausibly redeemed.  We weren’t even out of the stadium yet when my daughter leaned closer and asked, “Dad, can I come with you every time you go to FC Dallas games?”

Hear that, FCD players?  You owe us a couple goals next time.

Big D (for Disappointing)

FC Dallas’ meltdown continues with 2-1 loss at Houston

I’d really like to write something positive related to FC Dallas this year, but they’re making it very difficult.  I was hoping the long break after a busy stretch of games in May would recharge the team and turn around their increasingly dismal season.  Instead, fans got more of the same from the team’s visit to Houston last night.

The first hour went very well, with the team looking much livelier than we’ve seen since the first couple weeks of the season.  But then fans were treated to another completely boneheaded move from a veteran who should know better.  Jair Benitez earned a red card for elbowing (off-the-ball no less) Houston’s Colin Clark in the head.  Benitez’s inexcusable and inexplicable action killed FCD’s momentum and flushed away their remaining chance at possibly getting a much-needed win.

It’s understandable that players can lose their cool in the heat of battle, but Benitez’s ejection came when FCD was doing quite well in the game.  They were enjoying most of the possession at the time, had just tied the game a few minutes earlier, and had decent momentum.  What was Benitez thinking?  He wasn’t and that’s the problem.  Several FCD players haven’t been thinking this year.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time around the FCD coaching staff at a clinic and was impressed by their affable, down-to-earth style.  But I’m beginning to wonder if that easy-going atmosphere unintentionally allows lapses in players’ on-field discipline.  These FCD red cards are getting ridiculous.  The club should fine Jair Benitez.  Whether or not issuing fines is an effective means to chastise professional players is beyond my realm of expertise, but something must be done.  The card blunders this season are baffling considering the team’s injury woes.  The red cards have completely changed matches that FCD legitimately might have won.  It is also discouraging for fans – who are already disappointed that so many FCD stars are out injured – and have to endure further benchwarmer misadventures when players like Benitez are suspended for red cards.

Speaking of frustrating benchwarmers, it’s certainly not substitute Andrew Wiedeman’s fault that Dallas lost, but seriously, what was with his two awful corner kicks late in the match?  Before the first one, he squandered a shot opportunity in the box by trying to take a controlling touch when the team really just needed him to blast it at the goal.  On both corner kicks, he sailed the ball completely over the cluster of FCD players in the box.  It was a maddening waste since chances were precious with FCD down to ten men.

On the plus side, Castillo showed some real spark in the first half and Jackson played out of his mind.  Jackson showed amazing speed and tremendous stamina.  He scored FCD’s only goal and later saved a goal off the line.  The problem with Jackson and Castillo is their propensity for holding onto the ball a couple seconds too long.  They both have too many turnovers in the critical final third.

It would be easy for the team, and fans, to blame FC Dallas’ poor season on all the injuries.  But FCD has been very competitive in most of their matches this year, and should have won many of them, despite their missing starters.  This is no longer a slump – it’s a crisis.  Adversity often reveals what a team is truly made of, and right now I’m pretty disappointed with what I see.

What should FC Dallas do to correct its course?