Jeff Cunningham didn’t train with FC Dallas on Wednesday morning. In fact, he also won’t train on Thursday either. But he has a good excuse.
The 2009 Budweiser Golden Boot winner is in Los Angeles to attend Wednesday night’s ESPY Awards. Cunningham is one of five players up for MLS Player of the Year honors. The other nominees are Colorado’s Conor Casey, LA Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, Shalrie Joseph of New England and Seattle’s Kasey Keller.
Cunningham traveled to Los Angeles with the full blessing of his coaches and teammates.
“He and I talked about him going,” FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman said on Wednesday. “It’s a great opportunity for him not only to potentially get an award but also to be around some of the best athletes in the country.”
Before departing, Cunningham asked Hyndman if missing two days of training would hurt his chances of playing against reigning MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake, who visit Pizza Hut Park on Saturday.
“Typical Jeff, he asked if that was going to hurt him being selected for the game,” Hyndman joked. “I said, ‘No we’re not going to punish you, because you’re not here when we gave you permission’.”
It’s likely Hyndman feels good about letting Cunningham miss a few days of training following the forward’s solid showing off the bench in a 1-1 draw at Seattle on Sunday.
“In my opinion, this reminded me of Jeff last year,” the FCD manager said. “It’s the first game I’ve seen him where he’s been similar to what we saw last year. He’s made the adjustment. I think he’s starting to be the player that we saw last year.”
His teammates will all be cheering him on Wednesday night.
“I think it’s pretty sweet,” FCD midfielder Brek Shea said. “I hope he gets it [the Player of the Year award]. I’m definitely going to be watching and cheering for him. It’s a pretty big event. A lot of people go there and he’s there. I’m proud of him. It’s pretty amazing.”
Cunningham’s teammate and close friend, Atiba Harris, who was also teammates with Cunningham when he won his first Golden Boot in 2006 with Real Salt Lake, would definitely like to see him win.
“I’m excited for him,” Harris said. “Hopefully he wins it because he deserves some awards. We’re pretty close. Our families and wives are all pretty close. It would be really great for him to win it for his family and for his daughter.”
FCD midfielder Dax McCarty agrees Cunningham is more than deserving of the award.
“He’s a veteran guy and scored a lot of goals for us last year,” McCarty said. “When he had like 11 or 12, we were in the training room and I told him he’d score 18. He didn’t believe me. He ended up scoring 17.
“I’d like to think I can take some of the credit there but he had a fantastic season,” he continued. “To think that he only did it in a 16-game stretch is unbelievable and shows you how deadly he can be when he’s on.”
The ESPYs will air tonight (Wednesday) at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.
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