Fight For The Cup Playoff Blog: Salt Lake City

FCDallas.com follows the team at home and on the road

Haters

Photo Credit: 
Justin McCord

READ: Fight For the Cup Playoff Blog, Part 2 -- Los Angeles

FC Dallas has enjoyed a banner 2010 season, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and setting the MLS single season unbeaten streak with a 19-game run. As the team embarks on their “Fight for the Cup,” FCDallas.com will be there every step of the way with behind-the-scenes coverage, training reports, photos, videos and more. Stay tuned to this blog and FCDallas.com/playoffs for full coverage you can’t get anywhere else.

We’re Dallas ‘Til We Die!

Blog Contributors:
Justin McCord, Marketing Director
Melanie Jarrett, Digital Content Editor
Casey Bowman, Video Coordinator
Jason Minnick, Media Services Manager

Sunday, November 7: 10:30 p.m. “West Coast Showdown”

Well, the Western Conference Final has finally been set! As you all already know, LA soundly (pun intended) thumped Seattle, setting up a showdown at the Home Depot Center on Sunday night, November 14, at 8 p.m. We'll be opening the Pizza Hut Park Stadium Club for a watching party, so make sure to come out and join us there or at one of our official Pub Partners. [CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO]

The guys will be back to work bright and early tomorrow before taking a break on Tuesday, and then will finish out the week with daily practices. [CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCHEDULE] Keep in mind that all FC Dallas practices are open to the public, so come join us if you can get some time away from work!

Although the final travel itinerary is still being finalized, we can confirm that the team will depart from DFW airport early Friday afternoon (after training), with a scheduled return on Monday following the Sunday night match.

We'll continue to keep you updated as we follow your FC Dallas in their "Fight For The Cup."

-MJ

Sunday, November 7: 4:30 p.m. “Welcome Home”

FC Dallas was lucky enought to go from the hostile environment at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night to a warm reception of cheers and chants from the FCD faithful at Love Field Airport in Dallas on Sunday afternoon.  After FC Dallas tied Real Salt Lake in Utah to win their first round series of the Western Conference semifinals, fans were elated to gather and greet the team when they returned home. 

Dallas’ lone goal-scorer in Saturday night’s match, Dax McCarty, was greeted with chants of “Ginger Ninja” when he made it down the stairs to the baggage claim area.  Rising star Brek Shea, who assisted on McCarty’s tally, was serenaded with the parody, “He’s a Brek House.”

Head coach Schellas Hyndman said it was great for the team morale to receive such a large and loud welcome before they even got out of the airport.  The support will certainly help motivate FC Dallas as they prepare for the next round of the playoffs, where they will either host Seattle at Pizza Hut Park or pay a visit to The Home Depot Center to play the LA Galaxy. 

-Scott Brown

Sunday, November 7: 10:00 a.m. “Headed Home”

Just a quick note for all the FC Dallas fans out there still celebrating the team’s first round playoff victory. The team will be returning to Dallas on Southwest Airlines, arriving at Dallas Love Field at 4:05 p.m. We encourage all of our fans in the Metroplex to come out and welcome the team home.

Posters, drums, cheering and chanting are strongly encouraged – we hope to see you there! Tomorrow (Monday) will also be an open practice on the adidas field at Pizza Hut Park. The session will be a short, recovery-focused effort but fans are welcome to come out and watch the team train.

Hope to see you there!

-MJ

Saturday, Nov. 6: 10:30 p.m. "Silencing The Critics"

And that’s the match! FC Dallas has accomplished what many of the critics deemed impossible – a defeat of the defending MLS Cup champions in the opening round of the MLS playoffs. You can read match coverage throughout FCDallas.com, but we’ll focus on what you didn’t see – whether you were there at Rio Tinto or watching on Fox Soccer Channel.

WATCH: Post-game quotes from inside the FC Dallas locker room

As you know from tonight’s previous blog entries, FCDallas.com was in the locker room prior to the team’s arrival at the stadium. What we didn’t tell you, however, is what was written on the whiteboard as the team came into the locker room for the first time.

“PROVE THE HATERS WRONG! CONTINUE TO BELIEVE IN EACH OTHER!”

It’s unknown who wrote the statement, but for a team who has battled critics all season long, they certainly took the message to heart on the field tonight. I asked team captain Daniel Hernandez about the message in the locker room following the match, and he made it clear this FC Dallas squad is out to prove the naysayers wrong.

SEE: Action photos from the match

“There are a lot of haters out there,” Hernandez said. “A lot of the people that are running their mouth about how FC Dallas are pretenders, we don’t have a shot, we’re the underdogs – I know who they are, and I don’t think they know a lot about soccer.

“I think for us, all year we’ve had confidence in ourselves. We’ve played for each other all year and it’s no different in the playoffs. We’re like a family, and I think it showed today. Everybody was out there fighting for each other, and that’s what this team is about.”

Hernandez has been vocal all season long about the team’s belief in each other, and his on-field presence has unified a team that was looking for leadership through much of 2009. It’s no coincidence that Hernandez and fellow veteran Kevin Hartman – who should practically have a statue built in his honor after his performance tonight – were the last two left in the locker room, sitting side-by-side and taking a moment to enjoy the winning moment.

SEE: Behind the scenes at Rio Tinto

“We’ll enjoy it tonight, but it’s a long ways from being over for us,” Hernandez said, while Hartman nodded in agreement. “We want to be there at the end of the year to lift the MLS Cup trophy, and this was just one step to get there. By no means are we done. We have to keep working this week and get ready for the next game.”

We’ll find out tomorrow night following LA-Seattle who that match will be against, but for now FCD will take a hard-earned chance to celebrate a victory few outside of the organization believed they could pull off.

-MJ

Saturday, November 6 -- 9:40 p.m. "#HyndmansJacket"

 Tactical decisions.  Quieting a packed Rio Tinto.  And causing a Twitter firestorm.

These are all things that Schellas Hyndman did in the first half of the 2nd leg match between FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake.

Shortly after the game began, twitter posts from soccer fans began to share their thoughts on the head coach’s game attire, in particular his jacket.

Comments ranged from Marlboro Man to Wilson’s Leather, a take on the original Air Jordan ad (“gotta be the jacket”) and fearing the jacket.

FCDallas.com had the chance to chat with Schellas (in the aforementioned jacket) and reported that he was, more so than normal, calm.
On a brisk Utah night, sometimes a stellar first half (and an awesome jacket) is all you need to stay calm.

-Justin McCord

Saturday, Nov. 6: 9:30 p.m. "At The Half"

We’re at halftime here at Rio Tinto Stadium, and as predicted its already been a wild affair here in Utah. The key moment of the first half was not so much the goal from Dax McCarty as the strategic move that preceded it.

 In the early goings, RSL was attacking down the right flank, exploiting a less than 100 percent Jackson (hamstring injury) and getting good looks on goal. FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman made the call to switch Brek Shea to the right, bringing Marvin Chavez to the left and creating a considerable size advantage on defense with Shea’s 6’4” frame.

The move immediately shored up the right side of defense, but paid the biggest dividends when David Ferreira got loose in the RSL defensive third, chipping the ball to Shea who was now – where else – on the right side. Shea was able to bring the ball down with his chest – a move Chavez could not have replicated with his small stature – serving the ball in perfectly to a waiting Dax McCarty, who took one touch before burying the shot beyond the outstretched hands of RSL keeper Nick Rimando.

We caught up with Hyndman at the half, and he had this to say about the first 45 minutes of play:

“I’m kind of surprised that we’ve had as many quality counter-attacking opportunities, and with some luck we probably could have scored more than one. I think right now we need to continue to absorb the pressure. We know that everything’s going to be thrown at us, but things haven’t gone against us yet.”

Will FCD’s luck hold? Is a two-goal aggregate lead enough to hold off the reigning MLS champs? We’ll find out in another 45 minutes.

-MJ

Saturday, November 6 -- 7:40 p.m. Starting XI

Here is your FC Dallas Starting XI for tonight’s match, Leg 2 of the Western Conference semifinal series vs. RSL. Just as a reminder, FCD leads the aggregate goal total 2-1 going into tonight’s match.

Starting XI:

Kevin Hartman

Jair Benitez

Ugo Ihemelu

George John

Jackson

Dax McCarty

Marvin Chavez

Brek Shea

Daniel Hernandez

David Ferreira

Jeff Cunningham

A few items of note:

Brek Shea replaces Atiba Harris, who is serving a one-game suspension for a red card received during Leg One of this semifinal series. Shea’s size should compensate nicely in place of Harris’ 6’2’’ frame, and if he is able to return to midseason form he should be an offensive threat during this match.

Jeff Cunningham gets the start in place of Milton Rodriguez, who went down with a groin injury during last week’s match. Cunningham netted the equalizer in the first leg, and his speed should help stretch the RSL defense.

George John has returned from his hamstring injury, which he re-aggravated last week just prior to the first match of the series. That means Zach Loyd is out and Jackson is in, as John will be at center back and Jackson will hold down the flank. Look for Loyd as a late game defensive substitution if FC Dallas is able to hold their current lead.

We’re 20 minutes from kick-off, so stay tuned for a halftime update including a short interview with head coach Schellas Hyndman.

-MJ

Saturday: November 6 -- 7:00 p.m. "The Kit Man" 

We arrived at Rio Tinto Stadium early this evening in order to witness what FC Dallas trainer Josh Watts and kit man Marcus Owens do to prepare the visiting locker room for the team's arrival. When we walked in, Owens was just beginning to hang each player's jersey from a locker. The jerseys were in numeric order, prompting us to ask if this was how he hung them every game.

"Actually, no," Owens replied. "Normally I separate starters from reserves, but I figure it's playoffs -- why not give it a team feel. Besides, we need something different here in Salt Lake (FCD is 0-3 at Rio Tinto)."

Owens also mentioned the opposing kit man's customary trip to the locker room during pre-game. "If he comes in and starts looking around, he might give away our Starting XI."

Proof positive that gamesmanship exists on every level of these two opposing clubs -- especially considering the fact that RSL's kit man is none other than Kevin Harter, Dallas' original equipment manager.

-MJ

Friday: November 5 -- 7:30 p.m. "Preparation Makes Perfect"

One of the things we wanted to give insight into with this blog is what the road routine of your FC Dallas team is like. A major component of that, especially at the professional level, is breaking down the opposing team’s film. Whether on the road or at home, FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman makes sure to always fit in a short video session the day before a game.

WATCH: Schellas Hyndman gets mic'd up for Friday's training

We caught up with technical director Barry Gorman just before the lights went out in the hotel conference room and the video session began, and he explained just what goes on behind closed doors.

“Basically, they’re going to break down video of the Real Salt Lake team from the last game we played against them,” said Gorman. “Drew Keeshan (goalkeeper coach) will go over certain things and also Marco Ferruzzi (assistant coach) will go over things.

“They’ll keep it short, they’ll keep it bright, and it’ll be very much specific in terms of matchups for the game coming up.”

WATCH: Schellas Hyndman goes one-v-one with MLSsoccer.com

Chatter in the room prior to the beginning of the session was light, but it was clear that the session itself would be all business.

“It’s a very important component of the game today in terms of preparation,” Gorman explained. “But it’s a fine line in terms as to how much you want to give the players and how much is overkill. So a lot of work goes into it, and hats off to Marco and Drew because they break down film all the time and it’s going to be very specific to the last second without over-doing it.”

We only stayed through the beginning of the session – some things are off limit, even for us – before heading back to our respective hotel rooms. But before we headed out, I asked what the FC Dallas players would do for the rest of the night.

“It’s a matter of relaxing and it’s a matter of individual taste. Some will go to a movie, some will go out to eat, some will meet up with other friends from the area or previous teammates,” Gorman said. “At this level it’s a matter of individual preparation. The guys know what they have to do. The seasoned pros will help the younger guys and it’ll be a matter of them getting into their routine.

“They have a road routine, they have a home routine, and you want nothing to disturb that. Coming out a day early is great because now they’re familiar with the hotel, they’ve had a night’s sleep in the hotel bed, and now everything is focusing on the game tomorrow.”

In other words FC Dallas fans, no need to worry – your team will be well-rested and prepared for the challenge tomorrow as they attempt to advance to the Western Conference finals.

Until then-

MJ

Friday: November 5 -- 4:15 p.m. "Subtle Reminders"

Day two, and the Dallas side has seemed loose but focused on the eve of a playoff showdown at what will be a packed Rio Tinto Stadium.  FCD has the goal aggregate lead (2-1) and only needs a draw to advance to the Conference Finals.

Even with the lead and a quiet confidence, Dallas hasn’t lost sight that they are competing against a stellar RSL team -- the defending MLS Cup Champion.  In fact, a couple of reminders were on display at today’s training session that would jog such a memory.

READ: FC Dallas daily training report, Nov. 5

As the MLS Champion, Real Salt Lake trains and plays with a silver version of the adidas Jabulani.  When FCD traveled to Salt Lake in October it was the pink ball, in support of MLS W.O.R.K.S. breast health awareness initiative. Now it's back to silver. Every touch today. Every ball. Every time the guys looked down — there was that silver orb. The ball of the Champs.

As practice ended, FCD spent some time working on their touch while broken into smaller groups.  During this drill, an image appeared on the video board at Rio Tinto, congratulating newly crowned MLS Defender of the Year, Jamison Olave. Maybe it was coincidence. Or perhaps it was subtle gamesmanship?

FC Dallas may have the 2-1 lead, but as they say, if you want to be the champ you have to knock off the champ.  And it would appear this champ is pulling out all the stops.

-Justin McCord

Thursday: November 4 -- 10:15 p.m. "Checked Baggage"

 A familiar table at a familiar restaurant was the gathering place for the FC Dallas coaching staff at the Dallas/Ft Worth International Airport today.

Waiting to board their flight, you’d assume the tacticians would be pouring over practice notes, game plans or what they need to do in order to close out Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Not this table.

Holding up a napkin with a drawing, head coach Schellas Hyndman asked us, “Do you guys remember this?”

On the napkin was a drawing of a fan with a bag on their head, holding a sign that said, “Fire Coach Dumb Ass.”

This wasn’t a practical joke from his staff.  This was a memory – one that’s stuck with Hyndman.

After a slow start in 2009 (4-7-10 through 20 games), Hyndman’s first full year as FC Dallas head coach, he remembers seeing fans at Pizza Hut Park with bags on their heads and signs calling for his job.

Hyndman has openly recounted how difficult his first 2 years on the job in Dallas were.  In an article from The Dallas Morning News in September, Hyndman said there were many times he would look at himself in the mirror and doubt his decision to move from SMU to FC Dallas.

But to know Schellas is to know his resolve.  After leading his team to one of the best seasons in franchise and league history, Hyndman thinks about 2009 differently. 

“Imagine how I felt when I found that bag in my wife’s closet,” joked Hyndman, now a legitimate contender for MLS Coach of the Year. He also made mention of another DFW-area coach, one whose job has recently come under fire (we'll give you a hint -- it's not Ron Washington).

"You've got to feel for the guy," empathized Hyndman. "No coach goes out there trying to lose ball games."

As the table cleared and the coaches headed for their gate, Schellas came by one more time to make sure the digital staff didn't miss the flight.

“Normally I only have to take care of my players.  But this time I need to take care of you guys, too.” 

The experience subtly reminds you of Schellas’ thick skin and his ability to register his critics and then prove them wrong.  That resolve seems poised to not just take care of his players or the digital staff this weekend, but also take care of business on the field at Rio Tinto.

 -Justin McCord

Thursday: November 4 -- 5:30 p.m.

The eagles – or should I say Toros? – have landed. The team flight left from DFW this afternoon just before three and arrived in Salt Lake shortly after four local time.

But the real story of the trip occurred before anyone even boarded the plane. When the squad arrived at DFW they were greeted by American Airlines check-in counters decked out with FC Dallas banners, jerseys, posters and more. Led by No. 1 FC Dallas fan (and American Airlines flight attendant) Sally and her son Christopher, the entire lobby served as a giant welcome wagon for the players as they headed west.

SEE: Photos from FCD's day of travel

There was even a birthday cake for head coach Schellas Hyndman, who was turning…we’ll call it 40...today.

Most of the players partook in a piece of cake, with the exception of veteran keeper Kevin Hartman. “I’ve got to be able to get in the upper 90 of the net come Saturday night,” he joked. Luckily, Marvin Chavez stepped in and was more than happy to have an extra piece on Hartman’s behalf.

READ: FC Dallas players celebrate Hyndman's birthday

In other news, Ruben Luna made the 18-man traveling roster this week – a first for an FC Dallas homegrown player in the playoffs (Luna made several such trips in the regular season). Luna was spotted putting that shiny new driver’s license to work at the security gate.

Once the team checked into the hotel everyone immediately scattered with the exception of the coaching staff, who walked down the street to watch the San Jose-New York game at a place called Lumpy’s. For those of you who watched it, rest assured that even coaches get excited by a game like that one. The series winner from Wondolowski was met with the same shock and cheering that you probably reacted with at home.

Tomorrow afternoon the team will train at Rio Tinto, so check back to this blog for updates throughout the day!

-MJ

Wednesday: November 3 -- 6:30 p.m.

Shortly after today’s training session, nine of the FC Dallas players headed down to Dallas to the Scottish Rite Children Hospital.  It was there where the team surprised 12 year old Mabeth Diaz.  Diaz was the captain of his soccer team and had aspirations of becoming a professional soccer player.   About a month ago, that dream came to a halt as he lost one of his legs.  Diaz has since then been adjusting to a new life and continuing his love and passion for soccer.  FC Dallas Captain Daniel Hernandez presented Diaz with a personalized FC Dallas jersey with his own name and number on it. 

SEE: Photos of FCD's surprise for Mabeth Diaz

“As a team, we’re glad to be here with him.  We know he loves soccer so to be able to present him with some jerseys and hopefully a little hope after his setback it really motivates us just knowing we’ve got to live life to the fullest and take advantage of every opportunity that we have.”

The rest of the team followed Hernandez’s lead by presenting an autographed FC Dallas jersey and ball to the young boy.  The players stayed and chatted with Diaz discussing soccer and goofing around with each other.  The team offered some words of encouragement and displayed their complete support for the soccer fan.  Diaz expressed his gratitude and left on his crutches with a smile on his face.

Wednesday: November 3 -- 2:30 p.m.

As predicted, today’s FC Dallas training session was moved inside due to weather conditions – early morning rain and high winds. You can read more about today’s practice in the Daily Training Report, but the session was characterized by FCD’s usual style of laughter in one moment and intensity in the next.

In fact, by the time training was over even the coaching staff was in the mood for some good-natured joking. I talked to Brek Shea after the session wrapped up to find out what makes this team’s chemistry work so well.

“We have a young team is what it is,” Shea said. “It makes it a lot easier for everyone to get along, and even our old guys are young guys are at heart. Everyone likes to have fun; everyone gets along with everyone, and on the field everyone works for everyone. “That’s why we go down 1-0 in a playoff game and we come back and win 2-1, and two subs score the goals. Everyone knows what we have to do.”

Shea has actually known several of his teammates, including Kyle Davies, Eric Avila, Dax McCarty and Josh Lambo, since he was around 15 years old and living in Bradenton, Fla., as part of the U.S. Residency Program. He told me that the chemistry of this team was far better than in his previous years with the club, and offered several examples of how that feeling plays out on the field.

“People will make runs – like Jair [Benitez] will make a run and Marvin [Chavez] will cover him until he gets back, just stuff like that,” Shea explained. “Somebody gets beat, someone on the team’s going to be there to cover for them.

“How many times has Kevin [Hartman] saved us this year? Everyone gets beat now and then, and then Kevin saves us and he doesn’t have to say anything, because he knows we’re all there playing for each other.”

That team chemistry will certainly be tested come Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, where FCD must earn either a win or a draw to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The squad heads out early tomorrow afternoon, and FCDallas.com will be along for the ride. Stay tuned to this blog for more updates, photos and videos from the road.

-MJ

Tuesday: November 2

Today’s off day couldn’t have been better planned for FC Dallas. High winds and driving rain swept into North Texas, resulting in temperatures in the high 50s and generally miserable conditions around Pizza Hut Park. Several FC Dallas players still made it in for light workouts and treatment with trainer Josh Watts, but for the most part it was the kind of day where you just wanted to stay home.

The guys will be back at it tomorrow, but with more rain expected in the morning there’s a good chance the team will have to move inside for their training session.

As for the next leg of FCD’s playoff series, it’s evident in our conversations with players that they have moved well beyond their win last week and have full attention focused on Saturday’s match-up at RSL. In fact, when I spoke with Eric Avila in the locker room just after his game-winning goal, he was already thinking about the next week’s game plan.

SEE: Photos from FCD's 2-1 victory over RSL

“We’re going to go out there and try to win it,” Avila said. “We’re one goal up but we’re going to play it as 0-0, just a regular game. We’re taking one game at a time and I think this next game is important for us, especially with the lead. We’re going to go out there and try to fight and try to attack them.”

In other news, FC Dallas is now the lone postseason representative in the Metroplex after the Texas Rangers’ Game 5 World Series loss last night. Although FCD players were rooting hard for their neighbors, it appears a couple guys are taking their cue from the San Francisco Giants and attempting the ever-popular playoff beard. Look for George John, Eric Alexander and Dax McCarty (among others) to be sporting new facial hair come Saturday night in Salt Lake.

Until tomorrow-

MJ

Monday: November 1

Today was a relatively uneventful day at Pizza Hut Park, if you can call any day during a playoff run "uneventful." The starters from Saturday's match did a light recovery session, while the reserves worked through a few crossing and finishing drills (you can read more about it in today's Daily Training Report).

A few observations on the team today:

Winning puts everyone in a good mood. Not to over-state the obvious, but the entire squad seemed to be smiling this morning. The injured seemed closer to healthy, the healthy were laughing and joking -- even the coaching staff were in the mood to get in on the action. I asked FC Dallas broadcaster and former player Bobby Rhine if this was typical for the teams he had been a member of in Frisco, and he had this to say:

"Winning solves a lot of things. But with this team it's about being disciplined at the right moments and able to cut loose at the right moments. I've been on teams where guys weren't taking intense drills seriously -- this isn't that kind of team." 

In the training report you'll read about Brek Shea's screaming strike in the waning moments of practice, but the award for almost-goal of the session had to go to rookie midfielder Eric Alexander, who at one point launched a ball over the goal, over the security netting and almost -- seriously, almost -- through the glass windows of the Team Store.

And as for your injury report, players on the sidelines doing rehab work included Heath Pearce (latest we've heard is week-to-week with a right hamstring pull), Milton Rodriguez (groin strain suffered in the first half Saturday, being re-evaluated today), defender Jackson (another strained hamstring, but expected to play) and George John (hamstring, says he fully expects to play at RSL). We'll keep you posted as developments arise on the injury front.

Tomorrow is an off day, so we'll gather some behind-the-scenes insight for you throughout the day.

-MJ

Sunday: October 31 -- "IT'S ALL BUSINESS"

Following FC Dallas' 2-1 victory on Saturday, Ugo Ihemelu joined his teammates and many FCD fans in the Pizza Hut Park Stadium Club. The crowd stayed both to celebrate the victory, FC Dallas' first in a playoff match since 2007, but also to cheer on the other Dallas franchise on a postseason run, the Texas Rangers.

Ihemelu, like his teammates around him, seemed momentarily content with the victory. When asked about the environment in the locker room, Ugo said the team was "happy with the result, but it's all business and we're focused."

We've heard time and again this season about how this team has taken on the personality of its leadership. Whether it's head coach Schellas Hyndman or team captain Daniel Hernandez, Ihemelu's quick but conversational answer reinforced that this team is, in fact, all business about their goal of competing for a championship.

-Justin McCord

 Saturday: October 30 -- 7:35 p.m.

What a win for FC Dallas! Yet again the team came back from an early deficit to take the all-important first win of the two-game series. The team now heads to Salt Lake with a one-goal advantage and needs a win or tie to advance to the conference finals.

WATCH: Post-game interviews with Hernandez, Avila

Question marks heading into that match will be George John, who we confirmed re-injured his hamstring in Friday’s light training session; Milton Rodriguez, who left early in the first half with what we’re hearing is a groin pull; and Atiba Harris, who will need to be replaced after earning a questionable (yes, we said it) red card in the second half.

But none of that is new to FC Dallas, who has overcome injuries and adverse circumstances all year. You didn’t have to look further tonight than the locker room to understand the attitude surrounding this team – signs had been hung up that read:

“THE CRITICS DON’T BELIEVE IN YOU…BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND EACH OTHER.”

That attitude was on full display tonight, and I’d expect to see it next Saturday in Salt Lake as well. If there’s one thing you don’t want to do with this FC Dallas squad, it’s count them out.

-MJ

Saturday: October 30 -- 3:57 p.m.

Here’s your FC Dallas Starting XI for today’s playoff match vs. Real Salt Lake:

Kevin Hartman – GK
Jackson – DEF
Zach Loyd – DEF
Ugo Ihemelu – DEF
Jair Benitez – DEF
Atiba Harris – MID
Daniel Hernandez – MID (captain)
Dax McCarty – MID
Marvin Chavez – MID
David Ferreira – FWD
Milton Rodriguez – FWD

Worth noting: Hartman is officially back in goal for Dallas, which should make a lot of FCD fans happy and a lot of RSL fans anxious. We’re hearing that Hartman is able to do everything but take goal kicks, which will fall to the feet of team captain Daniel Hernandez.

After a good week of practice, George John is not in the Starting XI. Our best guess is that something happened towards the end of practice on Friday, when we saw John leaving the field as soon as the whistle sounded. The center back has been nursing a strained hamstring which may have flared up. He is available as a sub, however.

We’ll be back in post-game with commentary on tonight’s match.

-MJ

Friday: October 29

The mood of the final practice before FC Dallas' first playoff game in three years was noticeably light, with the usual pre-practice game of keep-away spilling over to an all-inclusive session of the team's favorite mini-game. Typically played in a five-by-five circle by a small contingent of the squad, the main purpose of the game is to embarrass your teammates.

WATCH: FC Dallas training, Oct. 29

The actual rules of the game are unimportant, but here they are anyway: string together as many passes as possible while avoiding the defenders. Players on the outside of the circle become defenders when they turn the ball over, or if they are last to touch the ball before it leaves the confines of the circle.

The players’ weapon of choice in humiliating the defenders has been dubbed the "nutmeg." The more valiant players fire knee-high rocket passes across the circle. Unsuspecting recipients of those passes typically find themselves in the middle of the circle defending. Others find themselves on their back laughing, or writhing in pain.
 

The official practice got underway with a short talk which appeared to circle around the message “tomorrow is the beginning of a whole new season.” Hyndman went into his normal day-before-a-game ritual of a light scrimmage followed by set pieces. Hyndman’s starting lineup looked strong, creating numerous scoring opportunities on the north goal.

SEE: Photos from Friday's training session

The good news for the team is that the number of players riding the bike during practice has dwindled down to three. Which three? You'll just have to guess. We can confirm, however, that Kevin Hartman was not one of them -- in fact, he was busy in goal, directing traffic and giving constant feedback to his defenders. The other vocal standout was center back George John, who helped relay Hartman's information up the field and position the FC Dallas midfield.

The most interesting part of practice, however, wasn't part of practice at all. As usual, once the whistle had blown FCD players were still on the field getting in extra work and playing an informal game involving PKs. The only difference? The RSL squad was waiting silently in the wings for their turn on the stadium pitch. A prolonged standoff ensued, as FCD players made sure to take their time, asserting their home field advantage quite loudly for the opposing side.

That home field advantage will be on full display tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. CT when FCD takes on RSL in the opening leg of their playoff matchup.

-Jason Minnick and Melanie Jarrett

Thursday: October 28

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard from people is that they don’t feel like they “know” this FC Dallas team very well. Luckily, today’s practice was a prime example of this club’s personality.

I can sum it up in two words: “personal accountability.”

If you’ve made it out to an FC Dallas practice at all this season, you know that it’s rarely over when the whistle blows. Nine times out of 10 the guys stay after, getting extra touches or just doing sprint work.

WATCH: FC Dallas training, Oct. 28

Optional sprint work? Yes, that’s the kind of team this is – the kind that chooses to get their butt kicked. After Tuesday’s practice I even heard Kevin Hartman complaining when the coaching staff wanted to take the balls in.

“Jason, grab those balls over there,” Hartman commanded rookie Jason Yeisley. “They want us to quit working, but we love work, right?”

In fact, it reminds me of something I heard Daniel Hernandez tell the crowd at the Playoff Rally Tuesday night.

“If you could just see the chemistry these guys have, the heart and the character these guys have every day,” Hernandez said. “I don’t remember one single day this year that we’ve not come out to practice 100 percent. It never happens.”

And today’s practice was no different, despite the wind chill and the (im)patiently waiting media hovering on the outskirts of the practice field. [PHOTOS] After head coach Schellas Hyndman had officially ended practice, players worked on free kicks, some ran laps around the field and Jeff Cunningham made it his usual point to be last off the pitch.

In the meantime, however, Hyndman faced the throng of media gathered to quiz him over injuries, lineup changes, and tactics for RSL. Hyndman held his cards close as usual, no surprise given the intertwined history of the two sides (stay tuned for a feature on the tangled FCD-RSL web early next week).

“First of all, I wouldn’t believe anything RSL says,” Hyndman said to a reporter informing him RSL head coach Jason Kreis planned a conservative approach for the first leg. “And if they believe anything I say, they’d be making a mistake as well.”

Ladies and gentlemen, let the games begin.

-MJ

Wednesday: October 27

The day started off with a telling quote from FC Dallas Technical Director Barry Gorman.

“Off day? There are no off days for professional athletes.”

And sure enough, a quick survey of the training room, weight room and adidas practice field showed that very few FC Dallas players were truly taking the day off.

SEE: Off day photo gallery

Defender Heath Pearce was out on the Stadium Field by 9 a.m. to film a segment with NBC 5 reporter Kim Fischer, while Kyle Davies, Ugo Ihemelu and Edson Edward were all splitting time between lifting in the weight room and getting treatment from FC Dallas head trainer Josh Watts.

Out on the practice field, ‘keepers Kevin Hartman and Josh Lambo worked on positioning in a drill with goalkeeper coach Drew Keeshan, while Peri Marosevic practiced ball handling on the other end and Edson Edward did agility drills on the sideline.

“I felt like I needed to do a little extra work just to get some more touches on the ball, things like that,” Marosevic said. “It’s a beautiful day, our field’s looking amazing, so I figured why not come out here?”

WATCH: Peri Marosevic gets in extra work

Hartman Watch 2010. Hartman looked spirited during his drill with Lambo and Keeshan, and we can at least say that his competitive fire is at 100 percent, regardless of whether or not his knee is. Hartman was celebrating saves and angry with misses, just like you’d expect from a player who has compiled the league’s lowest goals against average this season. Still no word on whether he’ll play Saturday against RSL, but we’ll keep you posted.

Training is scheduled to resume as normal tomorrow, so if you’d like to stop by and join us we’ll be on the adidas practice field at Pizza Hut Park from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Until then,

-MJ

Tuesday, October 26

FC Dallas began their playoff push today with a recovery training session for starters and a full session for reserves. You can read more about that training session HERE, including a photo gallery and highlight video of the day’s work.

Hartman Watch 2010. What I can tell you: Kevin Hartman is indeed participating with the full team. What I can’t tell you: whether or not he’ll get on the pitch Saturday against Real Salt Lake. I did see him getting in extra work after the initial training session was over (including diving saves to the left and right), but as anyone who’s had a knee injury knows – there’s much more to recovery than meets the eye.

But the most exciting part of the day wasn’t actually during daylight hours at all. FCD hosted their first-ever playoff rally at Mockingbird Station in Dallas, featuring an appearance from the entire team; speeches from team president Doug Quinn, head coach Schellas Hyndman and team captain Daniel Hernandez; a performance from the FC Dallas dancers; live music, drink specials and more.

WATCH: FC Dallas Playoff Rally

The 300 or so in attendance came decked out in FCD colors, beating drums, chanting and singing through most of the evening. [PHOTOS] Hernandez’s speech in particular brought the crowd to their feet, as he thanked everyone for their season-long support and recalled his first address to fans back in March.

“I couldn’t be more proud to wear this FC Dallas jersey on my back every day, especially in the games, where it represents all of you and all of Dallas,” said Hernandez. “I told you all at the beginning of the season that I expected nothing less than a championship from this team, and that’s what we’re going to go out and start working towards on Saturday.”

The team then mingled with fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures before calling it a night. Wednesday is an off day for the team, so we’ll check in with the guys tomorrow to see what they’re up to in their free time.

-Melanie Jarrett

READ: Fight For the Cup Playoff Blog, Part 2 -- Los Angeles