FRISCO, Texas — With FC Dallas set to start the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs as soon as Thursday, head coach Schellas Hyndman has almost settled on his starting XI for next week’s Western Conference semifinal against either the LA Galaxy or Real Salt Lake.
How his bench rotation will shake out is a completely different story.
Much depends on how injured starters making their return to the starting XI fare this Sunday against the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. FCD got three starters back – midfielder Daniel Hernandez plus center backs Ugo Ihemelu and George John – for last Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Real Salt Lake.
John came through the full 90 unscathed, but Hernandez and Ihemelu each picked up hamstring injuries. Hernandez figures to start this weekend but Ihemelu might give way to rookie Zach Loyd in the starting XI.
If Hyndman goes with last weekend’s starting lineup against RSL, his bench rotation could be pretty cut and dry. Leading scorer Jeff Cunningham would be the top attacking option because of his speed and scoring touch. MLS' joint all-time leading scorer could start this weekend against the Galaxy, but he still figures to continue his role of bench player in the postseason.
“I think he’s been very good for us [off the bench],” Hyndman said of Cunningham. “He hasn’t had the minutes that he had planned. But he’s accepted the role, come out and been productive. He’s scored 11 goals and the scoring leader in the league has 17 goals. When you put [in] the minutes of play, Jeff is probably more productive [than the league’s top scorers].”
Another name that could come off the bench is left midfielder Brek Shea. The 20-year-old Texas native has five goals and four assists this year and spent much of the year as the starter on the left flank. However, after a red card on Sept. 16 earned him a two-game suspension, he lost his spot to Marvin Chavez, who has two goals and an assist in FCD’s last four games.
Shea has come off the bench in two of the last three games for his side.
“I don’t know [how he’s done off the bench],” Hyndman said. “I don’t think he’s done enough to put himself in a starting position. I think we can consider it but the thing that you always hope for when a player comes off the bench is there’s some kind of spark.
"We found that spark in [midfielder Eric Avila]. We found that spark in Chávez and right now, Chávez is playing so well for us, it’s hard to say we’re going to make a change and then try to explain to the player that we’re making a change because of a gut feeling.”
The FCD gaffer’s other top option off the bench could be Brazilian first-year Jackson Gonçalves, who has played four different positions and fared well at all four spots since joining the club in August.
“I think he’s been tremendous because of all the versatility and it seems like in every position he plays, he does very well,” Hyndman said of Jackson. “We see him start the game in Real Salt Lake where he’s a right-sided midfielder and he’s getting to the baseline quite often. He was getting crosses off and was very athletic.
"He brings so much versatility. It makes a coach very comfortable to know that not only can you play a good player in different positions but during the game, he might be able to interchange his positions as well.”
That versatility could serve Dallas well off the bench. Avila could also ride the pine for FCD. He filled the role of "energy guy" off the bench for the club before being replaced by Chávez. But the Honduran is now starting, and Avila could fill the void left by Chávez. Loyd could also be an option if a defensive replacement is needed, while fellow rookie Eric Alexander has proven he can play at both the holding and linking midfield spots.