Dallas lineup shaped by key injuries, suspension
FRISCO, Texas — Dealing with injuries and suspensions during the regular season is a fact of life for most MLS coaches. However, for those fortunate enough to make the playoffs, it's a challenge all would rather do without.
FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman doesn't have that luxury. He has one starter suspended and two others likely out with injuries for Saturday's second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium (9 p.m. CT, FSC).
Forward Milton Rodríguez, who had started last weekend before a right groin injury forced him off after 32 minutes, hasn’t trained all week and won’t be traveling this weekend.
It's likely Jeff Cunningham will start in his place. Cunningham scored his fifth career playoff goal in the 44th minute of Saturday’s first leg at Pizza Hut Park, which Dallas won, 2-1.
“I think it makes sense,” Hyndman said of starting Cunningham. “Jeff scored a goal against them. He used to play for them. There’s a lot of internal motivation. He will be able to stretch the field a little more because of his speed and quickness.”
With Cunningham in a starting role, that means rookie Ruben Luna, a product of the FCD Youth Academy, will make the trip as the backup striker. Luna made four appearances during the regular season after signing a pro contract in late July.
But Hyndman's issues don’t end there. Right midfielder Atiba Harris is suspended for this weekend’s match after getting red-carded last Saturday for an elbow on RSL midfielder Will Johnson.
Hyndman has several options for replacing Harris. He could plug in super-sub Eric Avila, who had the game-winning goal in the 88th minute, or he could reinsert Brek Shea into the first XI. Shea hasn’t started since Sept. 16, but his size, speed and finishing ability make him a good choice against the reigning MLS Cup champions.
However, Shea did his best work of the season at left midfield, where Marvin Chavez has been performing well over the last seven games, including in the playoff opener. At 6-foot-4, Shea also brings considerable size to the position, something Avila or versatile rookie Jackson Gonçalves, who has an outside shot to start there, can’t provide.
“That is important,” Hyndman said. "So many games are won or decided on corner kicks and free kicks."
With that, Hyndman is looking at moving Chávez to the right and putting Shea back in on the left flank.
“Chávez would rather play on the right side," Hyndman said. "It just may fit exactly what we want."
The Hounduran was originally brought in to start on the right until an injury late in preseason put him on the shelf, setting the stage for Harris to start.
The other issue is at right back, where Heath Pearce — who started 27 games during the regular season — continues to be bothered by a hamstring injury. Pearce didn’t start the first leg in Frisco, and now it looks like he also won’t be available for this weekend’s match at RSL.
With Pearce out, it looks like Hyndman could go with Jackson at right back. He could also start fellow rookie Zach Loyd, but FCD’s top 2010 draft pick struggled for the first 20 minutes last week before he and Jackson switched spots.