There’s a scene in the movie Ali where Will Smith beats on a drum and announces, “The champ is here.” On Saturday, FC Dallas get their first look at reigning MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake when they visit Pizza Hut Park for what figures to be a hotly contested match between the second- and third-place sides in the Western Conference.
Both clubs come in riding unbeaten streaks. Jason Kreis’ RSL side hasn’t lost in 10 straight and hasn’t been scored on in its last five. Schellas Hyndman’s team is currently on a five-match unbeaten streak and has lost just once at home all year—that defeat came at the hands of current West leader Los Angeles.
The FCD manager is more than aware of what a huge test awaits his club this weekend.
"They have done very well," Hyndman said. "They’ve also been pulling off some great wins at home, and they beat Chicago on the road last week. They’re a team that seems to have solved some problems as far as being effective on the road.”
He did label this weekend’s contest a must-win, but that’s nothing new.
“I think every game is a must-win game—that’s my mentality,” Hyndman said. “We must win this game, especially being at home, where we have a good run going.”
RSL have never won in six trips to Frisco. But the FCD players know this meeting could be a little different.
“They got hot at the right time last year,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We’re the home team now, and we need to be the aggressor. We need to come out, try to assert ourselves on them and not let them dictate the pace of the game. They’re a team that’s well put together and very well-coached. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
Facing the reigning MLS Cup champs is a challenge fellow midfielder Brek Shea, second on the team with three goals, welcomes.
“We’re coming off 10 points in four games," Shea said. "No matter who it is, it’s a big game and we need to keep getting points. Them being the defending champs, it’s good. It’s definitely going to be a reality check. I think it’s good for us to see where we’re at.”
Veteran defender/midfielder Heath Pearce also sees this match as a way to gauge exactly where FCD is right now and what they need to do to reach the upper echelon in the West—and the entire league, for that matter.
“It’s always a good gauge," Pearce said. "Last year, we were playing well and they were another team that was playing well at the end of the season. I think to play against a team of that caliber, to try to get a result—and to hopefully get a result—will be a measuring stick of where we need to be come playoff time.”
This match figures to have plenty of RSL storylines. Hyndman’s top assistant, John Ellinger, was the original head coach in the Wasatch Front until 2007. Two of his former players, Jeff Cunningham and Atiba Harris, now play for FCD.
“I’m pretty much friends with a lot of guys on the team still," Harris said. "I’m looking forward to it knowing that they have this unbeaten streak going. Hopefully we end it on Saturday."