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Cunningham seeks stronger start


FRISCO, Texas---In many ways, FC Dallas striker Jeff Cunningham’s 2009 season mirrored that of his team. After a very slow start, the veteran forward came into form and finished the year with 17 goals and eight assists to earn Budweiser Golden Boot honors. Cunningham’s team also came within an eyelash of ending a two-year playoff draught before falling at Seattle in their regular season finale to extinguish their chances.

However, this is a new year and Cunningham looks to start much better in 2010. He also hopes his team does the same.

Part of his issue one year ago was that FCD also had Kenny Cooper up top and FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman tried to play the two strikers together in a 4-4-2 system, which often didn’t produce favorable results.

Cunningham was in and out of the first 11 and didn’t get his first goal until May 31 at Chicago, the 10th game of the year. However, he really took off once Cooper departed for Germany late in the summer.

“Well, last year I played one game and scored. The next game, I got taken out at halftime and then didn’t really see the field for a good stretch there,” Cunningham said after training on Monday. “A lot of that decision was the formation that the coach went to. Hopefully, as a team, we can start off on a positive note and get the win at home (on Saturday against Houston).”

Hyndman will open the year with his team in the 4-1-4-1 structure with Cunningham alone up top, a setup that worked well in the latter stage of the 2009 season.

“What we hope to do is get the pressure off of Jeff. It’s enough for him to put internal pressure on himself and he’ll get it externally from the team’s success or by his performance,” the FCD coach said on Monday. “I think it’s very important that we have a player up front that is a threat to score every time he has the ball.”



One big difference for Cunningham this year is that he won’t have Dave van den Bergh serving him crosses from the left side nor will he have Atiba Harris doing the same from the right. Brek Shea is the new starter on the left and Marvin Chavez steps in on the other flank.

“We’re all professionals. Dave (van den Bergh) was tremendous for us last year,” Cunningham said. “It’s important that everyone contributes offensively this season. It’s important for Brek (Shea) to get the opportunity to step up and make the most of that chance. Everyone has been pushing for a place on the team. That’s only going to contribute to the success of the team because we’re all going to be forced to take advantage of the opportunity we have.”

Chavez’s status could be in doubt for FCD’s Saturday afternoon opener against Houston. The Honduran midfielder has missed the last several preseason games after taking a knee knock during a February trip to Orlando. He had not returned to practice as of Monday but Hyndman expected him back on the field later this week.

"We’re trying to get him out training with the team. Once that happens, we’ll have a better understanding of where he is,” Hyndman said. “Brek is also an option (on the right side). We’ve got options but you’d like to get your players on the field.”

The FCD coach added that he considers Cunningham getting off to a better start this year something that will help his entire team. 

“I think part of it is he’s got to get off on a good start. Strikers are streaky players,” Hyndman said. “They’re on and then they’re off and so forth. You hope that he’s on and if he is, that will continue to build confidence. That’s where he finished up last year.”

First up for Cunningham and his teammates is a clash with in-state rival Houston on Saturday at Pizza Hut Park.

“We want to win all of our games and especially playing at home. That is an advantage for us,” Cunningham said. “Hopefully we can take care of business at home and then when we’re on the road, find a way to get a couple of results. It’s most important to play good football and to try to get three points.”