Fight For The Cup Playoff Blog: Los Angeles

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

READ: FC Dallas Playoff Blog, Part 1: Salt Lake City

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

Monday, November 15 – 8:00 p.m. “A Warm Welcome”

Fans and supporters welcomed the Western Conference
Champions home heartily tonight. As the players came down the elevator at DFW
Airport, waiting fans began singing “Dallas ‘Til I Die” and cheering wildly.

SEE: Fan photo gallery from DFW Airport

Players went around shaking each person’s hand and thanking
them for their support, even stopping to pose for pictures and let fans hold
the trophy. The media was also out in full force, and Daniel Hernandez and Schellas
Hyndman were of course popular interview subjects. #IWANTMYFCD must be working!

Although the players were tired from their long trip, it was
evident how much the local support meant to them. After a few hiccups (several
bags were missing upon arrival), the guys boarded their bus and headed for
Pizza Hut Park.

The team is off on Tuesday [see the full training schedule
here]
and then heads to Toronto on Thursday afternoon. As usual, all practices
at PHP this week will be open to the public – come on out and wish the guys
well as they try to bring home Dallas’ first MLS Cup!

-MJ

Sunday, November 14 – 10:00 p.m. “Western Conference
Champions”

The confetti has finally settled and the champagne bottles
here at the Home Depot Center have officially been popped. For the first time
in its 15-year history, FC Dallas has won the Western Conference Championship
and advances to the MLS Cup against the Colorado Rapids next weekend.

SEE: FCD celebration photo gallery

Most of you probably watched the match on TV, and you can
read the recap HERE. I’ll pick up the story with what happened after the
players accepted their trophy and walked down the tunnel back to their locker
room.

Owners Clark and Dan Hunt along with the late Lamar Hunt’s
wife, Norma
were on the field and in the locker room immediately after the
game. It was evident in watching the Hunt family celebration just how much the
opportunity to play for the MLS Cup means to all of them, as they are watching
one of their father/husband’s unrealized dreams finally come to fruition. FC
Dallas players also clearly recognized the significance of the moment, and many
made a beeline to hug Clark and Dan, who took time to congratulate each player
on their accomplishments.

Team president Doug Quinn has a personal history with the
Western Conference Championship trophy
– he designed it. One of Quinn’s last
acts before he left the league office to join FCD was to re-design both
conference trophies. “I’m the guy that told them ‘make it bigger,’” said Quinn
in the locker room after the game. “And now I have one.” Quinn then took a
giant celebratory gulp of champagne out of the trophy he helped design.

David Beckham made a cameo in the FC Dallas locker room
during post-game.
The Galaxy midfielder came in to exchange jerseys with Daniel
Hernandez and congratulate the captain on his team’s success. We tried to catch
up with Beckham on the way out, but when we asked him what they discussed his
reply was simply, “Nothing, mate.” Ah well, maybe next time.

SEE: Behind the scenes in LA photo gallery

And speaking of Daniel Hernandez, the team captain was
clearly overcome with emotion in the moment.
He gave two heartfelt speeches
(one on the stage while accepting the trophy, and the other to his teammates in
the locker room), and in both mentioned his brother Nico. Nico was also a
promising soccer player at SMU when a car accident paralyzed him from the chest
down. Hernandez has made it no secret that his brother is a major inspiration
in his soccer career, and playing for the MLS Cup as a member of his hometown
team (Hernandez grew up in nearby Tyler) obviously means the world to him.

The champagne was flowing in the locker room during post-game,
but there was one player who couldn’t partake – none other than 18-year old
homegrown forward Ruben Luna, who is stiff significantly shy of the legal
drinking age.

Jeff Cunningham still won’t do interviews. Believe me, I
asked him. The veteran forward did, however, promise a world exclusive to
FCDallas.com after the MLS Cup final next Sunday. We’ll hold him to it.

You don’t have to be one of the players to be one of the
most passionate members of this FC Dallas squad.
Kit man Marcus Owens and
director of player personnel Bobby Hammond are two of the longest-tenured
members of this FC Dallas staff (Hammond has been here since the days of the
Dallas Burn even), and were overjoyed to see their team finally make it to a
Cup final. The only thing better? If FCD brings home the trophy come Sunday.

The team travels late tomorrow afternoon, so they’ll get in
a recovery pool workout on Monday morning before packing up and heading for
home that afternoon. The team flight arrives at 6:55 p.m.  to Terminal D at DFW airport, so if you’d
like to come out and welcome the team home I’m sure they’d appreciate it!

Dallas ‘Til I Die,

-MJ

Sunday, November 14 – 7:15 FC Dallas 1, LA Galaxy 0 (Halftime)

We’re at the half here at the Home Depot Center and to the shock of most of the fans in the arena tonight (but none of you FC Dallas fans out there), FCD leads it 1-0.

The goal came off a superb buildup that culminated in a Marvin Chavez service to MVP candidate David Ferreria, who stoned Donovan Ricketts for the score. FC Dallas hung onto the lead through more superb goalkeeping from Kevin Hartman and took the slim lead into the locker room at the half.

A few notes from the first half:

It’s Donovan vs. Jackson…and Hernandez…and Ihemelu. It’s clear that neither Jackson or Donovan have forgotten about the last regular season match of the year, when Donovan scored off a questionable play at the LA Galaxy endline. The two have already been in one shoving match, and both Hernandez and Ihemelu have shown a willingness to mix it up as well.

Dema Kovalenko very well could have been red-carded in the first half. He wasn’t, but keep an eye on him to either a) tone it down in the second half , b) get subbed out or c) earn that second yellow.

Potential subs: Look for Zach Loyd to come on for Jackson and Jeff Cunningham to come on for Marvin Chavez at some point during the second half. But Hyndman has been known to throw a few curve balls, so keep your eye on the two Erics (Alexander and Avila) as other potential subs.

Stat: When FC Dallas scores the first goal their record is 11-2-6 for a .737 winning percentage. It should be noted, however, that one of those two losses came at the hands of the LA Galaxy.

Will the lead hold? We’ll find out in another 45 minutes (or perhaps more).

-MJ

Sunday, November 14 – 5:36 p.m. “Starting XI”

Fans, we’re less than a half hour out from kick-off and here is your FC Dallas Starting XI:

Kevin Hartman

Jackson

George John

Ugo Ihemelu

Jair Benitez

Marvin Chavez

Dax McCarty

David Ferreira

Daniel Hernandez

Brek Shea

Atiba Harris

A few observations:

The big shock of the night for most fans will be no Jeff Cunningham in the starting lineup, despite the injured absence of Milton Rodriguez. That means Atiba Harris will be the lone forward in head coach Schellas Hyndman’s customary 4-1-4-1 lineup. But if that worries you, let me point out a telling stat: of Cunningham’s 12 goals this season, 5 have come when he has been in the Starting XI. Six, on the other hand, have come when he enters the game as a reserve.

Brek Shea and Atiba Harris are both in the Starting XI. We’ve heard rumors of this all week, and the decision is clearly one to help combat the Galaxy’s lethal set pieces. Perhaps more of a surprise is that Marvin Chavez remains in the Starting XI, but hearing Hyndman say last week that “no one seems to have an answer for Chavez’s speed” give a clue as to the motives of the decision.

Jackson and team captain Daniel Hernandez are both healthy enough to start. Jackson has been battling a hamstring injury for the last third of the regular season, while Hernandez has struggled with a swollen knee as of late. The team captain sat out most of practice last week, and the rest has clearly given him the boost he needs to make the start.

We’ll be back at halftime with observations and updates from the first 45 minutes of play.

-MJ

Sunday, November 14 – 2:00 p.m. “Who's The Master? Coach Schellas!”

Its been a quiet day here at the FC Dallas hotel in LA, as the players have been going through their individual preparations to get ready for tonight’s match. In the meantime, however, we were alerted to the existence of an actual FC Dallas rap music video. The creator is none other than team captain Daniel Hernandez’s brother Nico, who has a music studio at his house and wrote the track.

Without further ado, here is the world premiere of “Red and White.”

WATCH: FC Dallas music video – “Red and White”

If you enjoyed the song, Nico Hernandez has made the MP3 available for free download by clicking HERE.

-MJ

Saturday, November 13 – 5:15 p.m. “Chin Music”

Team chemistry has been key for FC Dallas all year.  Now, one day away from taking on defending Western Conference Champion the LA Galaxy, FCD is exhibiting team chemistry in a different way:  facial hair. 

Dax McCarty, Jeff Cunningham, Atiba Harris, Ugo Ihemelu, Brek Shea, Eric Alexander, Jason Yeisley and Zach Loyd are all sporting more scruff this week. 

In Dax's words, "Anyway you can make it more fun will lighten the mood a little bit." 

On the eve of the game of their lives, lightening the mood may be just the remedy to keep the team loose and ready to take on LA.

WATCH:  McCarty on the playoff beard

In addition to the aforementioned players, Coach Hyndman was also a little scruffy for today's practice. 

"It'll be taken care of," said Hyndman. 

-Justin McCord

Saturday, November 13, 2010 – 2:00 p.m. “Who you calling underdogs?”

If you’re reading any media reports about Sunday night’s Western Conference Championship, you’re probably hearing all about how FC Dallas are the underdogs to the star-studded LA Galaxy.

Just don’t tell that to our boys in stripes.

WATCH: Daniel Hernandez talks about being called underdogs

“We don’t feel like the underdogs at all,” said midfielder Dax McCarty prior to Saturday’s training session at the Home Depot Center. “We know that the playoffs are the start of a brand new season.”

His sentiment was echoed by FCD head coach (and newly minted MLS Coach of the Year) Schellas Hyndman, who called out friendly foe Alexi Lalas for his seemingly anti-FC Dallas stance.

“I think the people who have been giving their opinions have been getting it all wrong. Hasn’t Alexi Lalas picked every team wrong, and he still has a job?” said Hyndman with a laugh. “That’s the way we want it.”

And truly, if you think about it: FC Dallas has set or tied four MLS records on the season, including tying the record for fewest losses in a season; boasts the MLS Coach of the Year in Schellas Hyndman; has a legitimate MVP contender in midfielder David Ferreira; and at one point in the season reeled off 19 games without a loss.

So really, who are you calling an underdog?

-MJ

Friday, November 12 – 6:00 p.m. “Hello, Los Angeles”

If you stop to think about it – and during our three hour flight to LA, I did – it’s been five weeks since FC Dallas has played someone OTHER than the LA Galaxy or Real Salt Lake. Today we touched (back) down in LA around 3:30 p.m. local time for FCD’s Western Conference Championship vs. the Galaxy.

For many of the guys, however, it’s more like a homecoming than a road trip. Several current FC Dallas players, including Kevin Hartman, Atiba Harris, Eric Avila, Ugo Ihemelu and Daniel Hernandez (I’m sure there’s more) have either played in LA as a member of the Galaxy or Chivas, or are from the area.

Add to that the fact that the forecast in LA calls for sunny weather in the high 70s while Frisco is in the mid-50s with rain, and it’s feeling less and less like an away game for FCD.

Tomorrow the team will train on one of the practice fields at the Home Depot Center, followed by a video session back at the hotel. After that, players will be free to visit with family and have dinner on their own before settling in for a good night’s sleep.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a training report and more updates from the road.

-MJ

Thursday, Nov. 11 -- 7:00 p.m. "A Fitting Reward"

By now most of you know that FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman was named MLS Coach of the Year today. You’ve probably seen the interviews and read the stats on his success here in Frisco.

If you’ve followed his career, you might even know about the time fans showed up wearing paper bags over their heads to a game in protest of his job as manager. Or maybe you’ve heard the story about how Hyndman willingly opened himself up to the firing squad of a Season Ticket Holder town hall meeting, patiently fielding angry questions and urging people to give him time to right the ship.

Well it’s without doubt that Hyndman has, in fact, righted the ship. On Sunday night FC Dallas will play in their first Western Conference Championship in 11 years – with Hyndman’s players and in Hyndman’s chosen style.

But what you didn’t see today was the candid moment between Hyndman and FC Dallas players and front office staff. The latter organized a surprise reception for the man at the helm of FCD just prior to Thursday’s training session.

WATCH: FC Dallas front office staff congratulate Hyndman

As Hyndman walked out the door and onto the Pizza Hut Park Stadium concourse, he was greeted by everyone from team president Doug Quinn on down to the marketing department, sales staff, human resources, accounting – every person at 9200 World Cup Way who has been impacted by his success.

Hyndman was clearly overcome by emotion, and offered these words once the applause had finally died down.

“None of us go into coaching for awards,” Hyndman said. “We go into coaching because we love the game, and we hope that we can do something, whether it’s success or having an influence on someone.

“The people that made this happen for us is of course ownership, who believed in me and brought me here; my staff, who work behind the scenes and work extremely, extremely hard; and of course the players. So this award goes to all of us, and I thank you very much for your support.”

After his short speech Hyndman walked around shaking each person’s hand, thanking them for their support. But then it was back to business as usual – after all, the Coach of the Year has a pretty big game to prepare for.

-MJ

Wednesday, November 10 – Facing The Media

In addition to today’s training (which you can read about in our Daily Training Report), two representatives of FC Dallas along with two from the LA Galaxy conducted a media conference call open to journalists across the country.

LISTEN: Western Conference Championship conference call

The first 30 minutes of the call featured FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman and team captain Daniel Hernandez, followed by 30 minutes with LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena and team captain Landon Donovan.

The difference between the two segments was like night and day. During FC Dallas’ half, the questions focused on Sunday night’s matchup and what the squad was doing to prepare for the opposition. During the LA half the topics ranged from the World Cup to Beckham to EPL and back to – what else – Beckham.

The contrast threw into stark relief the difference between the two sides; LA, who has harnessed multiple superstars into a (finally) winning product on the field, and FC Dallas, whose crop of unheralded role players has combined to create one of the most successful sides in MLS history.

But don’t mistake star power for an unwillingness on LA’s part to give Dallas their due.

“We had the ability to watch both games between Dallas and Salt Lake, and I was very impressed with Dallas and the way they went about their business, particularly on the road in Salt Lake where it’s a very difficult place to play,” Donovan said during the call. “They came to LA three weeks ago and gave us a really good game, and we expect the same on Sunday. It’s going to be a really hard fought game and it’s going to come down to making a few plays on either end of the field.

Arena in particular highlighted the job done by FCD manager and coach of the year candidate Schellas Hyndman.

“I think Schellas has done a fabulous job with this team,” Arena said. “The coaching in this league has been tremendous this year, and I think its probably been highlighted by Schellas and the super job he’s done with Dallas.”

Is Arena’s opinion indicative of Coach of the Year voters as a whole? We’ll find out at 9 a.m. CT tomorrow (Thursday) when MLS announces the winner. Stay tuned to FCDallas.com for updates!

-MJ

Tuesday, November 9 – 2:30 p.m. “There Are No Off Days”

Every Tuesday during the season is typically an off day, and that doesn’t change even in playoffs. Last week we found out what players do on their off day, so I figured I’d catch up with the coaching staff today to see what they were up to.

Lo and behold, they were hard at work in their respective offices – no surprise there.

WATCH: Assistant coach John Ellinger explains his typical off day

After the look of dread head coach Schellas Hyndman gave me upon spotting my tape recorder and notebook, I decided to give him a break from the relentless media schedule he’s been facing.

LISTEN: ExtraTime Radio talks to FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman

Instead I caught up with Bobby Hammond, team administrator and director of player personnel. What exactly does that job title mean? To put it simply, Hammond handles all the logistics of team travel and finances (although such a short description does him no justice). In a week where the team didn’t even know who they were facing until 10 p.m. on Sunday night, that job can get pretty complicated – especially when you’ve got to get a group of approximately 25 to 30 people across the country in only 4.5 days’ time.

“During the regular season I start planning for trips in January, so we actually have all the flights 10 months in advance for the last regular season game,” Hammond explained from his office, which sits on the ground floor of Pizza Hut Park directly across from the team’s training room. “This time, because you can only hold airline flights for so long, we had to hold stuff on Friday – knocking on wood hoping we’d advance. We were hoping for a home game of course, but we ended up going to LA. Even though we had flights on hold, it’s still a quick turnaround.”

But Hammond’s job goes far beyond booking flights.

“It’s everything that we have going on — airfare, per diem, practice times out in LA, bus reservations to get us to the airport, to make sure there’s a bus waiting for us when we get to Los Angeles, team meals, meeting rooms for when we watch video – it’s everything.

“My job is to make sure that the coaches and the players don’t have to worry about anything except what they do on the field in preparation for the game. So they just know that the bus magically shows up, and that the meal magically is there, and that everybody’s hotel reservations are correct. They don’t have to worry about anything, and that’s how I contribute to the success of the team.”

After tagging along with the team last weekend – yes, Hammond booked our digital staff’s travel – I can vouch for just how essential his job is. From what we witnessed, there were zero hiccups, off the field or on. Will the same be said for LA? Will Hammond have flights on hold to Toronto come Friday?

Knock on wood.

-MJ

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

READ: FC Dallas Playoff Blog Part 1 -- Salt Lake City