Fight For The Cup Playoff Blog: Toronto

FCDallas.com follows the team to their first MLS Cup

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

READ: FC Dallas 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
Bobby Rhine, FC Dallas broadcaster

Monday, November 22 – 1:10 p.m.

UPDATE: Available player list announced

The team is sitting at the Toronto Pearson Airport, waiting to board the return flight to Dallas.  Today's flight is not at that's up in the air, as today FC Dallas must release its list of protected players for the expansion draft.  Because we'll be in flight, we won't be able to publish that list here immediately. 

However, check back later today as we not only release the list, but also offer commentary from Bobby Rhine on the tough decisions being made by the FCD coaching staff just hours after seeing the Rapids raise the MLS Cup.

-Justin McCord

Sunday, November 21 – 12:45 a.m. Final (OT): FCD 1, Colorado 2

It was a heartbreaking loss here in the MLS Cup for your hometown heroes, as FC Dallas fell 2-1 in overtime to the Colorado Rapids. The final goal, a very unlucky own goal off the leg of George John, sealed the victory for the Rapids and sent FCD home to Texas still without an MLS Cup victory. [READ THE FULL MATCH RECAP HERE].

To say the players took it hard would be an understatement. Team captain Daniel Hernandez spent several minutes kneeling on the field, fighting back tears. Rookie Zach Loyd stood motionless, staring at the ground. Midfielder Dax McCarty, one of the longest tenured players, sat on the ground dejected, watching Colorado receive their trophy.

And John?

He laid motionless, hands over his head, until assistant coach Marco Ferruzzi came over and lifted the second-year defender up.

The scene in the locker room wasn’t much better. Players walked to their lockers in a trance-like state, sitting down and staring at their feet. The silence hung thick and heavy over the room, even after head coach Schellas Hyndman spoke to the team.

“I couldn’t be any prouder of you guys than I am tonight,” Hyndman said. “This moment is painful, but think about all of the things you accomplished this season.”

Hernandez then took a large gulp, still fighting back emotion, and addressed the team he lead so fearlessly all season long.

“Its been a great year. I’d go to battle with you all any time,” Hernandez told his teammates. “This is my fourth loss in the Cup, so one thing I know is that we’ve got to keep our heads up. I would go through this again anytime with all of you.

“Now we’ve just got to come back next year and win it.”

Team owners Clark and Dan Hunt came into the locker room next, declining to address the team as a whole but instead speaking with each player individually. Dan Hunt in particular spent a long time talking to his veteran ‘keeper, Kevin Hartman, while Clark spent time with Hyndman and technical director Barry Gorman.

The loss was quite clearly very, very difficult for the team. It was also difficult for the fans and front office staff in attendance. It was difficult for the coaches. It was difficult for anyone who knows the character and determination of this team and just how much they wanted to take that trophy home to Texas.

But as Hernandez said, there will be a next year. And the organization has finally turned a corner to an exceptionally bright future, loaded with talent on and off the field.

But for right now, it hurts – for everyone.

-MJ

Sunday, November 21 – 10:07 p.m. Halftime: FCD 1, Colorado 0

FC Dallas takes a 1-0 lead into the half after a shaky start by both sides to the 2010 MLS Cup.

Dallas lacked possession early, but both teams appeared to be battling nerves – not to mention the 30-degree weather. The slow start by FCD turned into a fantastic finish, however, thanks to David Ferreira. The MLS MVP scored a brilliant goal off a counter-attack, as Marvin Chavez put in a beautiful cross in the 35th minute that Ferreira easily finished. [WATCH THE HIGHLIGHT]

The sequence began after Jair Benitez won a ball on Colorado’s half of the field, quickly starting the successful counter-attack. I spoke with FCD broadcaster and former player Bobby Rhine prior to the game, and he mentioned his concern over the Benitez-Cummings matchup – at least for now Benitez has proven himself equal to the task.

READ: Bobby Rhine breaks down MLS Cup key matchups

I caught up with the team at halftime, where there was not a hint of celebration on anyone’s faces. In fact, I doubt I’ve ever seen Kevin Hartman look as serious – clearly they know the moment that is before them and are as focused as ever to prove they’re capable of winning it all.

Will FC Dallas hold their lead and take home a first-ever MLS Cup? We’ll find out in another 45.

-MJ

Sunday, November 21 – 7:30 p.m. “Starting XI”

Here is your FC Dallas Starting XI for the MLS Cup:

Kevin Hartman
Jackson
George John
Ugo Ihemelu
Jair Benitez
Marvin Chavez
Dax McCarty
Daniel Hernandez
Brek Shea
Atiba Harris
David Ferreira

A few notes on the 18-man roster:

Neither Milton Rodriguez nor Heath Pearce were given medical clearance to be eligible for the 18-man roster. Rodriguez injured his groin in FCD’s first playoff game against RSL, while Pearce suffered a hamstring pull on the last weekend of the regular season. Both players pushed hard at training this week to prove they were fit enough for inclusion, but ultimately the training staff did not give either player final clearance.

Atiba Harris will play up top as the lone striker again. A curveball last weekend, the move was now somewhat expected after the decision paid off against the Galaxy. Harris’ height advantage allows him to compete for balls in the air, and his willingness to challenge for the ball should add some grit to FCD’s attack.

JC9 doesn’t get the start at his former TFC stomping grounds, but look for him as a second half substitute – especially if FCD takes the lead early. Here’s hoping the veteran striker gets in the game – his first MLS Cup appearance in 13 seasons.

Jackson, Loyd and Hernandez are all healthy after being held out of training sporadically this week. All three returned to training yesterday and looked fit and prepared for tonight’s match.

We’ll be back at halftime with a quick analysis from the TFC press box.

-MJ

Sunday, November 21 – 8:03 p.m. “Championship Sunday”

We’re here at BMO Field just under an hour from kickoff of the 2010 MLS Cup. The players have arrived at the stadium and are commencing with warm-ups on a very chilly Toronto night. We walked onto the field with striker (and former TFC player) Jeff Cunningham, who makes it a habit to spend a few minutes alone on the pitch before either side begins warm-ups at every game. It’s hard not to cheer for the wily veteran after watching JC9 return to his old stomping grounds to play in his first MLS Cup – and apparently we’re not alone.

“If there’s one player in MLS who doesn’t get the credit he deserves, it’s Jeff Cunningham,” ESPN analyst Rob Stone told us on the sideline. “I’m not taking sides, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him up there accepting the trophy.”

The players spent the day leading up to the match relaxing in and around the hotel, although there was a brief flurry of excitement when their families arrived on the FCD charter flight from Dallas. The flight also included the entire FCD front office thanks to the generosity of the Hunt family. FCD supporters, staff and families of players all gathered at Shoeless Joes, a local pub near BMO Field, to kick off the festivities. A big shoutout to TFC’s Red Patch Boys, who served as unofficial hosts of the evening.

The starting lineups will be out shortly, so we’ll be back with an analysis of your FC Dallas Starting XI.

-MJ

Saturday, November 20 – 11:00 p.m.

Another long day of training and media sessions has come to an end, and for the rest of FC Dallas’ time in Toronto their focus will be on one thing and one thing along – winning the MLS Cup.

The highlight of today was a visit from FC Dallas owner Clark Hunt following training at BMO Field [READ THE TRAINING REPORT]. Hunt has become the face of the franchise along with his brother Dan since their father Lamar passed away, and after winning a championship with the Crew in 2008 they are now hoping to add a trophy to their hometown team’s case.

Head coach Schellas Hyndman gathered the players up at the close of training and motioned Clark to come onto the field and address the team.

“I just wanted to take a chance to tell you guys how proud I am and my family is in everything that you guys have achieved this year,” Hunt said. “We’re so excited for the opportunity that you guys have, the franchise has and our fans have to do something special tomorrow night.”

WATCH: Clark Hunt addresses FC Dallas after training

Hunt also offered the Dallas side three pieces of advice heading into Sunday:

1.)    Shut out all the noise

2.)    Take our opponent very seriously

3.)    Take advantage of the opportunity that you have

It was clear how seriously the team took Hunt’s address – you could have heard a pin drop save the Spanish translation going on in the background.

I caught up with Ugo Ihemelu, a Dallas native and like Clark and Dan an SMU alumni, and he was clearly moved by the gesture (Clark had to leave an MLS Board of Governors meeting to come out to training).

“I really appreciate it, because they’re also [SMU] Mustangs and I’d say they’re at the root of the growth of soccer in Dallas,” Ihemelu said. They’re the reason why this club has grown so much over the last few years and why we are making it to MLS Cup. They take an active role; they’re actually a part of it.

“We know they really care about the game and they really want us to succeed, so that’s just extra motivation for us to play well and win something for them and the fans.”

Clark finished his address by telling the players his lasting impression from this season was what a good team they are and what good chemistry they have.

“Frankly, it’s the stuff that champions are made of.”

We’ll find out tomorrow night.

-MJ

Friday, November 19 – 8:30 p.m. “A Hard Day’s Night”

It was an early day for FC Dallas, and none so early as for midfielder David Ferreira. The Colombian nicknamed “El Torito” had a busy day for good reason, however – he was running the media gauntlet after being named 2010 MLS MVP.

READ: FC Dallas attacker David Ferreira named MLS MVP

WATCH: Highlights from David Ferreira’s MVP season

The announcement came accompanied by an early morning ESPN interview at BMO Field prior to training [WATCH IT HERE] and a special award presentation later that afternoon. We caught up with a tired-but-happy Ferreira at training, where perhaps the most poignant moment of the day came about when head coach Schellas Hyndman announced the award to the team. The players immediately surrounded Ferreira, clapping, cheering and good-naturedly ribbing the diminutive star.

“That was a true, genuine moment,” said assistant coach Marco Ferruzzi, who told me Ferreira himself had found out the night before at the team hotel from Hyndman.

The silver adidas balls we mentioned in our Salt Lake City blog made their reappearance at BMO Field today. The winner of MLS Cup will play with the special edition ball at home games next season, and by virtue of FCD’s elimination of defending champ RSL two weeks ago, a new team is assured of the honor.

Jeff Cunningham still has a presence in Toronto. The former TFC star turned FCD attacker still has a place on the wall of photos leading down the tunnel to BMO Field. JC9 spent a tumultuous year and a half with the Toronto side before being dealt to Dallas in August of 2008. We can't confirm whether Cunningham has noticed the photo, but if he did we're sure -- well, sort of sure -- he'll appreciate the irony.

FCD has only been in Toronto for 24 hours, but has already notched one victory over Colorado. The win came at the feet of defender Ugo Ihemelu, who participated in a friendly competition with Rapids defender Marvell Wynne in order to see who could be the first to hit a target from PK distance. Both players, along with a large crowd of media, gathered at the base of Toronto’s famous CN Tower, where the winner would cue the lighting of the landmark in MLS Cup colors (red and gray).

Ihemelu, despite professing a lack of PK skill as a defender, stepped up to the spot and calmly buried his second attempt, setting off fireworks and immediately illuminating the tower. Ihemelu, who was joined by host and Toronto FC captain Dwayne DeRosario, is actually a dual Canadian/US citizen.

WATCH: Ugo Ihemelu explains his Canadian citizenship

The long day finally came to a close with the annual MLS awards banquet, featuring a true red carpet and the likes of Bob Bradley, Sunil Gulati, Don Garber and of course both MLS Cup finalist teams. Don’t worry fans – your FC Dallas boys know how to clean up nicely!

Tomorrow it’s back to work for FCD’s final training session before putting it all on the line in the MLS Cup, Sunday night at BMO Field in Toronto.

Stay tuned for more updates after training tomorrow!

-MJ

Friday, November 19 --  5:00 p.m. "Capitalizing on an opportunity"

In an address to supporters in October, new FCD team president Doug Quinn said that “this is a new FC Dallas.” 

Earlier this week, when he addressed the staff with news that Hunt Sports Group would be taking the entire front office to Toronto for MLS Cup, Quinn said this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the organization, and one he knew FC Dallas was now prepared to take advantage of. 

"If this had happened a year ago, I don't know if we would have been prepared to take advantage of the chance that we now have," Quinn told the gathered staff. "But now we have the right people in place and the right team on the field to make this opportunity one that will impact our organization psoitively for years to come." 

We caught up with Doug to find out more as the team deplaned in Toronto.

“It’s a game changer, on and off the field,” said Quinn about the chance to bring a championship back to Texas. 

“Awareness.  Interest. Fans. Credibility. Authenticity. Recognition by the corporate community. Recognition by the soccer community. Recognition by our partners and the media. Everyone who’s invested time, energy and resources into the club will see a benefit.”

In a city of diversity and culture, with a championship on the line, you can see the change of culture already happeneing within the walls of Pizza Hut Park. 

-Justin McCord

Thursday, November 18 – 11:00 p.m. “Oh Canada”

Toronto, we have arrived! Its been a long day for FC Dallas, as the squad practiced this morning at 10 a.m. before heading to Dallas Love Field to board a plane bound for Canada.

READ: FC Dallas daily training report, Nov. 18

The good news? The team flew charter thanks to the generosity of our owners, the Hunt family – a generosity which has also extended down to the entire front office staff, who will be joining the team on Sunday at BMO Field via a charter plane of their own. Thank you Uncle Lamar!

WATCH: Bobby Rhine recaps today’s events

A few notes from today’s trip:

FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman should have no trouble keeping track of what time his many obligations will take place this week. He’s sporting a brand new Raymond Weil watch thanks to his players, who bought the MLS Coach of the Year a gift to congratulate him on his achievement.

“The announcement came last Thursday and we gave it to him Friday before we left [for LA],” said team captain Daniel Hernandez, who spearheaded the gift. “He was definitely surprised, but it was just something nice we all wanted to do for him. I think he’s without doubt the leader of this team, and all our success starts with him.

“Bottom line? We’re like a family here, and he’s like the father figure for us.”

The team is also having the timepiece specially engraved for Hyndman next week. As to the contents of their inscription?

“You’ll have to ask Schellas,” laughed Hernandez. “I’m not telling. We just wanted something with some meaning that he could have forever.”

And speaking of that team flight, the traveling group was a little bit larger than usual thanks to MLS rules that allow a squad’s entire roster to travel if they so choose. That means homegrown rookies Moises Hernandez and Victor Ulloa made the trip despite not being eligible to play until 2011, and were joined by fresh FC Dallas faces like Andrew Wiedeman, Edson Edward and Jason Yeisley.

WATCH: Brek Shea and Eric Avila have some fun on the way to Toronto

Hernandez and Ulloa looked particularly wide-eyed, considering that most of their 17 and 18-year old high school counterparts were off somewhere hitting the books. But they better get used to it – early reports indicate that both homegrown players have a bright future with the organization.

We’ll be back tomorrow with more updates and behind-the-scenes action from Toronto – the guys have a jam-packed schedule full of media interviews, a training session at BMO Field and a red carpet awards dinner.

Until then,

-MJ

Wednesday, November 17 – “I Want My FCD”

Well fans, your FC Dallas is officially headed for Toronto! The guys returned to practice today after a travel day Monday and an off day Tuesday, and it was immediately back to business as usual as the team prepares for their MLS Cup matchup with the Colorado Rapids on Sunday.

WATCH: Daniel Hernandez -- Right Team, Right Time

The focus of today’s training session was mostly for players to get touches on the ball after a few days off, but many of the drills focused on the attack-minded nature FCD has played with all year long [WATCH: FC Dallas daily training report]. Tomorrow should turn more tactical, as the team departs for Toronto Thursday afternoon and will train two more times at BMO prior to Sunday.

But the most noticeable thing about today’s training session was actually happening on the sidelines, where a large crowd of local and national media was gathered.

LISTEN: FC Dallas president Doug Quinn on ESPN Radio

I spoke with one ESPN reporter who told me they were excited to cover our “Cinderella story” (I didn’t mention the fact that not one of our players considers themselves such a story if it implies luck was involved). I also counted at least three TV stations (English-speaking and Spanish-speaking) and countless print and online reporters.

Does this mean the #IWANTMYFCD campaign is working? It certainly appears so! But fans, that doesn’t mean your part is done – keep up the pressure all week long and let your media outlets know you want to see more FC Dallas coverage!

For the full list of DFW media outlets, CLICK HERE.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a full training report and a blog update from Toronto, so stay tuned to FCDallas.com as we go on the road with FC Dallas in the final leg of their Fight For The Cup!

-MJ

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

READ: FC Dallas Playoff Blog, Part 2: Los Angeles