On Sunday, FC Dallas and Chicago will renew their long standing rivalry in, of all places, Jackson, Miss. While the clash won't be for the Brimstone Cup or impact the MLS table, don't expect it to be any less spirited than a regular season meeting.
"I don't think I've ever been to Mississippi before. I think that's one of the states that I might have flown over but I don't know if I've been there," FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman said. "I think it's a great opportunity to get another MLS game against a very good team and I think it's a great opportunity to help promote soccer in that area. So, we're really looking forward to it."
FCD forward Jeff Cunningham, the league's 2009 Budweiser Golden Boot winner, has also never been to the Magnolia State but is looking forward to facing the Fire.
"It's a game that gives us an opportunity as a team to get used to each other and for the new boys to get a feel for MLS play," Cunningham said. "It's an important match for gearing up to the kickoff of the season. Whenever we compete, we're going to play to win. That's the approach we're going to take to this game."
Midfielder Dax McCarty, who joined Cunningham and FCD teammate Heath Pearce during a recent U.S. national team camp, is looking forward to his team putting together a good performance after falling in a pair of matches against MLS competition in the Walt Disney Pro Soccer Classic.
"It's obviously another opportunity to kind of work on the things we've been working on in training and try to make things good for the upcoming season," McCarty said. "We didn't have the best results down in Orlando against our two MLS foes. It's always tough in preseason when you're rotating guys in and out. That culture of winning starts in preseason. With the Fire being one of our rivals, we want to go in, get a good result against them there and get a win."
When asked earlier this week what kind of lineup he expects to field, Hyndman said he will start most of the first 11 he expects to have for the March 27 season opener with Houston at Pizza Hut Park.
"For us, it's preparing for our season opener and for the season. I think we've come a long way. I like what I'm seeing," Hyndman said. "The game with Chicago will be an exhibition game. I think it will be two teams coming out and looking at their lineups and a couple of key players. I don't think you'll see many trialists on the field."
However, at least one likely starter will remain in Frisco due to injury.
"Marvin Chavez, he got banged up against Houston, a little strained knee. Talking to Marvin today, if he pulls his leg out, it doesn't hurt but if he brings his leg in, it hurts. So what we want to do is not hurt him anymore, so he will not be going," Hyndman said. "And unfortunately, Eric Avila got hurt a couple of days ago in training with his foot. He has made some very, very good recoveries but it's one of those things that I think we have players we still need to make a final decision on, so I would not want to bring Avi there and make his injury worse."
For Cunningham, this will be another chance for him and his teammates to make their team an even more cohesive unit, something that was an issue at this same point in 2009.
"At this point last year, we didn't have a team. We were still in the forming stage," the FCD forward said. "We were trying to get used to each other and the team. Now, we have a good group that has most of the players back. The new additions come from good programs, so the transition will be easy for him. I think at this point, we're a better team than we were last year."
FCD is 1-2-0 this preseason against MLS competition. They won a scrimmage with New England 10 days ago in Orlando, but lost to Toronto FC 1-0 and fell 2-1 to in-state rival Houston in the Disney tournament.
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com.