Cunningham looks for strong start

Golden Boot winner had a slow-go in early 2009

In many ways, FC Dallas striker Jeff Cunningham’s 2009
season mirrored that of his team. After a very slow start, the veteran forward
came into form and finished the year with 17 goals and eight assists to earn
Budweiser Golden Boot honors. Cunningham’s team also came within an eyelash of
ending a two-year playoff draught before falling at Seattle in their regular
season finale to extinguish their chances.

But this is a new year and Cunningham looks to start much
better in 2010. He also hopes his team does the same.

Part of his issue one year ago was that FCD also had Kenny
Cooper up top and FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman tried to play the two
strikers together in a 4-4-2 system, which often didn’t produce favorable

Cunningham was in and out of the first 11 and didn’t get his
first goal until May 31 at Chicago, the 10th game of the year. But his
numbers ballooned after Cooper bolted for Germany late in summer.

“Well, last year I played one game and scored. The next
game, I got taken out at halftime and then didn’t really see the field for a
good stretch there,” Cunningham said Monday. “A lot of that decision was the
formation that the coach went to. Hopefully, as a team, we can start off on a
positive note and get the win at home (on Saturday against Houston).

Hyndman will open the year with his team in the 4-1-4-1
structure with Cunningham alone up top

“What we hope to do is get the pressure off of Jeff. It’s
enough for him to put internal pressure on himself and he’ll get it externally
from the team’s success or by his performance,” Hyndman said Monday. “I think
it’s very important that we have a player up front that is a threat to score
every time he has the ball.”

Cunningham won’t have Dave van den bergh serving him crosses
from the left side this season, nor will he have Atiba Harris doing the same
from the right. Brek Shea is the new starter on the left and Marvin Chavez
steps in on the other flank.

“It’s important that everyone contributes offensively this season,”
Cunningham said. “It’s important for Brek to get the opportunity to step up and
make the most of that chance.”

Chavez’s status could be in doubt for the opener, after the Honduran
midfielder missed the last several preseason games with a knee injury. He had
not returned to practice as of Monday but Hyndman expected him back on the
field later this week.

“We’re trying to get him out training with the team. Once
that happens, we’ll have a better understanding of where he is,” Hyndman said.