This is exactly how Schellas Hyndman envisioned his team.
When he was hired to coach FC Dallas in June of 2008, one thing Hyndman considered crucial to his success was having fullbacks who could get up and down the flanks and be actively involved in the attack.
It might have taken him more than a year to find two players that fit at right and left back, but it happened in 2009. Left back Jair Benitez was added last summer and right back Heath Pearce joined FCD in September.
Now Pearce leads his side in assists with five and earlier this week, the US National Team player joined teammate David Ferreira on the 2010 MLS All-Star roster. But as productive as Pearce has been when getting forward, he has still more than capably handled his defensive responsibilities.
“The 4-1-4-1 system is designed to get your fullbacks involved,” Hyndman said, “and I think we’ve got two of the better ones in the league as far as getting forward, experience, good decision making and good execution—whether it’s good service or a killer pass. Then, they play well on defense. Heath has really done well for us.”
In FCD’s 2-0 shutout of reigning MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake last weekend at Pizza Hut Park, Pearce assisted on the second goal of the night by Atiba Harris. He also had a solid performance in limiting the talented RSL midfield to only a handful of scoring chances.
His performance didn’t escape his coach's attention – Hyndman thinks Pearce's effectiveness against Fabian Espindola and Robbie Findley rounded out one of Pearce's best performances in an FCD kit.
While it’s always great to get kudos from your coach, Pearce is also getting his share of love from his teammates. After the win over RSL, Shea—who is tied for the team lead with four goals, two of which Pearce has assisted on—discussed what his veteran teammate has brought to the table.
“I know he plays right back but he and Jair together probably get the most crosses on our team,” Shea said. “They both come flying into the attack. Saturday night, Heath played me a great ball.”
Of Pearce’s five assists so far this season, only one has not been on a game-winning or game-tying goal. Both of his assists on Shea goals were game-winners, and he also assisted on Ferreira’s game-tying tally on July 11 at Seattle—a strike that allowed FCD to salvage a point at Qwest Field.
Always the team player, the veteran defender/midfielder credited his teammates for his success and also pointed out Benitez's role in the attack.
“With the style that we play, it gives me a chance to get the ball not just up the field on my right but also inside on my left in places that are dangerous,” Pearce said. “Luckily I’ve been able to put balls in good spaces for guys who have put them away. A lot of teams are trying to keep me back and that gives Jair an opportunity to get forward. With the two of us rotating back and forth, it creates some complications for teams.”
Pearce and the rest of FCD will look to carry a six-game unbeaten streak even further when they visit BMO Field to face Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon.