FRISCO, Texas – After Jeff Cunningham scored three goals in the last three games, talk was starting to heat up about when the veteran striker might supplant Colombian Milton Rodriguez in Dallas' first 11.
Neither Cunningham nor Rodríguez scored in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Chivas USA, but Rodríguez showed FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman why he’s deserving of the starting spot. The Colombian forward finished the night with two shots, including one where he was robbed by Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton.
That stop came in the 53rd minute, when Rodríguez took a free kick. The forward struck the ball well, bending it around the wall, and he would have tucked it just inside the far post were it not for the efforts of a diving Thornton.
“It was hit perfectly to the corner of the goal, but it was also hit perfectly for the range of the ‘keeper,” Hyndman said. “If it was a little bit higher, [Thornton] couldn’t have gotten to it. ... It was hit with great pace and it took a great save from Thornton.”
The FCD manager expects his forwards to score goals, provide assists, play defense, hold the ball and also combine well with his teammates. Hyndman admits Rodríguez has done all of those things in his six games with FCD.
“I think he’s adding a lot to the team,” Hyndman said. “I think you see how hard he works defensively. We’re able to get the ball to him, he can hold it and then bring it back to David [Ferreira] and then Brek [Shea] is taking off. We didn’t have that earlier [this year].
"Now we’re getting a ball that goes up, back and through. If you look at those five things, he’s doing them all. The area we want more of is the goal-scoring.”
Mixed Reviews for Rookie Duo
Hyndman had two rookies in his first 11 for the second straight week. Midfielder Eric Alexander played 64 minutes before coming off for Eric Avila, while center back Zach Loyd played the full 90.[inline_node:315571]
“I thought Zach was outstanding,” Hyndman said. “He’s everything we thought he would be when we drafted him. [He’s] a good defender, a ball-winner and athletic. He’s got good speed and good mobility. Right now, he’s hard to beat.”
“Where he gets into a little trouble is with distribution. The other thing is just getting into position earlier,” said Hyndman, adding that the rookie defender is bound to get more experience as time goes by and is given more positional play.
One week after Alexander had a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win over D.C. United, his performance dipped at bit against the Red-and-White.
“I think it was a little bit more of a difficult game for him,” Hyndman said. “Part of the reason was because of the heat. It seemed like he hit a point in the second half where he was physically and mentally tired. The balls weren’t going off his feet as clean or as crisp.
Nonetheless, the gaffer said that Alexander is “doing everything I’m asking him to do. He’s playing on both sides of the ball.”
Overall, Hyndman is happy with the effort his two players have put in.
“I think the two of them have done a really good job for us considering that eight months ago they were playing college soccer," the coach said.
No Rushing Things with Ihemelu[inline_node:316520]
Loyd got his second straight start because regular starter Ugo Ihemelu remains out with a concussion he suffered in a 3-1 win over Philadelphia on Aug. 8. And FCD fans shouldn’t expect the defender back in the first 11 this week, either.
“There will be more tests,” Hyndman said. “I don’t think he’ll be ready this weekend. He got hit pretty well. We just want to take our time, take care of a great human being and not worry about if we need him. We don’t want him to get himself out there when he’s not ready.
“I think he’s coming around. I’m never going to push him into this. He’ll know when he’s ready.”
McCarty Back in Training?
One player who could be back in training on Wednesday is midfielder Dax McCarty, who has missed the last five games with a strained right quadriceps. McCarty has been working on the side with FCD trainers during his absence and could be close to returning to practice as soon as this week.
“We hope so,” Hyndman said. “I haven’t gotten a complete percentage of him from the trainers. I think it’s progressing. He’s working really hard trying to get back. He’s in shape. He can run, cut, but I don’t know if he can tackle. [Also], he can’t strike without some type of discomfort.
“We’ve got to get to the point where that muscle will allow him to do everything he needs to do.”