On Thursday night, FC Dallas striker Jeff Cunningham did something he has done five times previously during his relatively short time with FCD: He scored multiple goals.
Cunningham converted penalty kicks in the 27th minute—a blast that gave his team an early 1-0 lead—and again in the 94th minute, which allowed FCD to salvage a point and tie the Seattle Sounders. In games where he has scored multiple goals, FCD is 5-0-1 since he joined the team from Toronto in August 2008.
Cunningham now has three goals in 2010, and all three have come from the spot. While the 2009 Budweiser Golden Boot winner would prefer to see some goals coming from the run of play, at least for right now, he’ll take the PKs.
“I’m just grateful, "Cunningham said after Thursday's match. "That’s the way the goals are coming right now. Last year I had some nice goals outside of the box, different types of goals. Right now they’re penalty kicks, and I’ll take it. Whenever your livelihood depends on scoring goals, you take it any way you can get it.”
In fact, his current pace is way ahead of how the season progressed in 2009 when he finished the season with a league-high 17 goals. The veteran forward struggled for the first 10 games, losing a spot in his club’s first XI two weeks into the season before seeing 17, 16, 19 and 8 minutes respectively off the bench in FCD’s next four games. And he didn’t see the field at all when FCD traveled to RFK Stadium to face D.C. United on May 2, 2009.
Cunningham then started at Houston and at home against Seattle before not playing a single minute against the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 23, 2009, at Pizza Hut Park. The following week at Chicago, a team he has feasted on throughout his career, the talented scorer finally broke through, getting his first goal of the year in the 15th minute as FCD beat their Brimstone Cup rivals, 3-0.
That first tally helped open the floodgates as the 33-year-old forward scored 16 goals in FCD’s final 14 games, including a club-record four goals in a 6-0 win over Kansas City on August 1, 2009, to win the second Golden Boot of his career.
So far this year, Cunningham has three goals in four games and currently leads the league in shots. Though he is pleased to have three goals, he’d like to see more of them coming from the run of play.
“You hope so but I’ll take them however they come,” he said. “If they want to hit off me and roll over the line, I’ll take it. I will not care.”
For his first PK on Thursday, Cunningham drew a foul inside the box from Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller, and then took the kick himself. However, on the second foul, FCD rookie Jason Yeisley drew a foul in the box from Seattle’s Leo Gonzalez to set up the second penalty.
After the game, the veteran had some good things to say about Yeisley’s efforts.
“Every opportunity he gets, he’s contributing. Last time he played, he created a couple of chances,” Cunningham said. “He’s a big guy and makes my job easier. He’s going to get his opportunity and I’m sure he’s going to take it.”
Considering that he is currently leading the league in shots, there is clearly no shortage of scoring chances. Now Cunningham just has to start converting some of those into goals.
“The one good attribute about myself is that I find ways to create chances, goal scoring opportunities. It’s not a coincidence that I’m getting these opportunities,” he said. “It’s a positive. Now I’ve just got to do better with those chances.”
FCD finished the month of April with a 0-1-3 record and Cunningham stepped up to take responsibility for several of those results.
“I’ve had some opportunities that could have made a difference for us in the win column. If I had put away more of the chances, maybe we’d have a few wins now,” he said. “So I’ll take responsibility for that but overall, I’m giving an effort. We hope that the goals will continue to come.”
However, one thing he hasn’t felt is any added pressure to start scoring goals from locations other than the penalty spot.
“There’s always pressure. It comes with the job,” Cunningham said. “One week, you miss two chances and everyone looks at you. The next week, you score two and feel good about yourself. It’s one of those things. The pressure’s always there and it’s how you handle that pressure.”