After being acquired in a trade with Chivas USA last July, Atiba Harris was a fixture in the FC Dallas starting lineup, starting 12 of FCD’s final 13 games. The attacker finished the year with two goals and five assists for his new club, setting the stage for an even better 2010.
However, during preseason, speedy Honduran midfielder Marvin Chávez showcased his incredible skill set and performed so well in the opening month that he had almost locked up the starting spot at right mid, where Harris had played in 2009.
But in late February in a preseason game against Houston in Orlando, Chávez took a knock to his knee. Originally, his injury wasn’t thought to be serious but that knock kept him sidelined until this week. In his absence, FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman called on Harris to return to his old spot. On Saturday, the St. Kitts native scored his side’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with Houston to open the 2010 season.
Harris’ first-half goal came off a great bending ball that beat Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad far post to tie the game at one goal apiece.
“In training, we’ve been working on finishing a lot,” Harris said after training on Tuesday. “Once I got to the top of the box, I knew I was going to shoot it. I think that is the second time I have ever scored against him. Last year with Chivas [USA], I scored a similar goal from the other side of the field. [Pat] Onstad is a pretty good goalie, but anything is possible.”
Seeing Onstad was guarding the near post, the FCD midfielder decided to try and tuck one inside the opposite side of the net.
“You’ve just got to be aware,” Harris said. “Whenever you cut in, the goalie is going to try and protect his near post. With the center back trying to come in to cover, he’s going to be the one to try to protect the far post. I just tried to get it around the center back and it went in."
It was a great moment for someone who earlier in preseason, was experimenting at playing elsewhere on the field.
“Most of the preseason, I’ve been playing at forward,” Harris said. “That’s the coach’s decision where he wants to play me. Once I step on the field, I’m focused on one thing: helping the team as much as I can. Scoring goals will be great.”
During the game, Harris was wearing white athletic tape on one hand, a trend he might continue but for a completely different reason than some might think.
“I fell on [my hand] about a month ago,” he admitted. “It’s still kind of bothering me and I had to protect it. Some of the guys have been teasing me, saying it’s just the style now. Hopefully it’s good luck.”
While Hyndman was pleased with Harris’ goal, he still saw room for improvement.
“I think we can work with Atiba a little bit,” the FCD coach said. “It was a fantastic goal. He seems to really be quite active when he’s on that left side cutting in because he’s strong and powerful and we’ve got to find more of that.”
Last year, Harris was one of several new acquisitions that helped spark FCD to a strong finish. He definitely feels the 2010 team can pick up right where last year’s left off.
“The team chemistry is there,” he said. “We didn’t play to our best but, you saw us fighting for each other. That’s going to keep going on because we feel like we’re friends. That’s going to translate into us working harder on the field. We’ve picked up where we left off. We’ve just got to keep going and hopefully collect three points in our next game. Hopefully we can do that in a lot of games and build on it.”
And now that Chávez has returned to training, he expects a battle to hold onto his starting spot. However, on Tuesday, Hyndman said that moving the fleet of foot Honduran to the left flank to replace Brek Shea is a possibility.
“Even if he was healthy, I’d still be putting my work in,” Harris said of Chávez. “It’s up to the coach to make the final decision. It’s not just a battle between Chávez and [me], it’s everyone out here fighting for their spot.”