Cunningham seeks stronger start

FCD striker hopes to continue 2009 momentum

Cunningham seeks stronger start

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Doug Pensinger/Getty Images


FRISCO, Texas---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.

However, 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 results.

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. However, he really took off once Cooper departed for Germany late in the 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 after training on 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, a setup that worked well in the latter stage of the 2009 season.

“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,” the FCD coach said on 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.”

MVP candidate Ferreira playing for his future


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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

FC Dallas midfielder David Ferreira is being touted by many as a strong candidate for MVP of the current MLS season.

An MVP award would make for an intriguing offseason in Frisco, with Ferreira’s loan deal from Brazilian club and FC Dallas partner, Atlético Paranaense, expiring in December.

“I hope to stay [with FC Dallas] for many years,” the 31-year-old told “The decision lies with FC Dallas. … I hope the possibility exists to continue.”

His production will make it hard to let him go. With six goals and a team-leading eight assists, he is a primary reason that FCD have the league’s fewest losses and the longest undefeated streak in MLS—11 games.

FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman gives Ferreira free reign to be the playmaker. The 5-foot-5 Colombian commands the trigger to unleash the team’s attack when the time is right. However, the manager's is a trust that has been earned over time.

“Last year I was in a new league and no one knew me,” Ferreira said of his MLS debut season in 2009. “Now the team trusts me 100 percent and that is the difference. The players know me and know I can help the team. They know in what moments I can be a leader on the field and I try to do it.”

Ferreira says 2010 is a completely different season for the entire team. He believes Dallas are much more settled and a fixed lineup has helped. But most importantly, he points to the fact that the team’s mentality has changed. The players do not get flustered easily or lose concentration.

On a personal level, Ferreira’s emergence has also meant attracting the attention of the new Colombian National Team manager, Hernán Darío Gómez, who mentioned that a recall is very much possible for the country’s October exhibition matches in the United States. It would mark the end of a two-year absence from the Tricolor for Ferreira.

He wouldn’t be the first Colombian playmaker in MLS history to be called up to Colombia’s national team. Ferreira happens to come from the same Colombian city which is the home of former MLS great and Colombian World Cup hero, Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama.

Ferreira and Valderrama meet up regularly during the offseason and even play together in local pick-up games. The subject of MLS comes up often and Ferreira says that Valderrama reminds him that it was El Pibe who won that first MVP award in 1996.

The newest Colombian sensation, who goes by “Ricky-Ricky” among friends, is just 10 regular season games away from perhaps matching the feat of his hometown legend. Ferreira could even upstage him by winning the MLS Cup title that eluded Valderrama through the course of his seven-year MLS career.

“If I won [the MVP award], it would be spectacular,” Ferreira said. “I am thankful that people are recognizing the work I’m doing for FC Dallas. But I am trying to help the team reach important goals. We’re going to keep working and trying.”

The march to the playoffs continues with a match in Columbus against the Eastern Conference-leading Crew, a fellow contender for the 2010 Supporters' Shield.

“We’re going to Columbus to entertain and play good soccer,” Ferreira said. “We need to be intelligent and keep in mind that getting a good result will help us continue to move forward.”


One big difference for Cunningham this year is that he won’t have Dave van den Bergh serving him crosses from the left side 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.

“We’re all professionals. Dave (van den Bergh) was tremendous for us last year,” Cunningham said. “It’s important that everyone contributes offensively this season. It’s important for Brek (Shea) to get the opportunity to step up and make the most of that chance. Everyone has been pushing for a place on the team. That’s only going to contribute to the success of the team because we’re all going to be forced to take advantage of the opportunity we have.”

Chavez’s status could be in doubt for FCD’s Saturday afternoon opener against Houston. The Honduran midfielder has missed the last several preseason games after taking a knee knock during a February trip to Orlando. 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. “Brek is also an option (on the right side). We’ve got options but you’d like to get your players on the field.”

The FCD coach added that he considers Cunningham getting off to a better start this year something that will help his entire team. 

“I think part of it is he’s got to get off on a good start. Strikers are streaky players,” Hyndman said. “They’re on and then they’re off and so forth. You hope that he’s on and if he is, that will continue to build confidence. That’s where he finished up last year.”

First up for Cunningham and his teammates is a clash with in-state rival Houston on Saturday at Pizza Hut Park.

“We want to win all of our games and especially playing at home. That is an advantage for us,” Cunningham said. “Hopefully we can take care of business at home and then when we’re on the road, find a way to get a couple of results. It’s most important to play good football and to try to get three points.”