SANDY, Utah — FC Dallas took the toughest road possible to end more than a decade’s worth of postseason futility on Saturday night, and now the road to the MLS Cup just might go through Texas.
Dax McCarty scored his first career postseason goal and FC Dallas held on long enough for a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake and a 3-2 series win on aggregate goals that sends FCD to the Western Conference Championship for the first time since 1999.
FC Dallas won the opening leg of the series 2-1 last weekend at Pizza Hut Park before doing just enough to earn the decisive draw in the finale in front of 19,324 fans at a raucous Rio Tinto Stadium.
FCD will wait until Sunday night to find out their foes in the conference final, when the LA Galaxy host the Seattle Sounders in the finale of their Western Conference Semifinal series. FCD will host the conference final at Pizza Hut Park if the Sounders win the series, but they will travel to The Home Depot Center if the Galaxy advance.
Either way, FC Dallas are back on the brink of the MLS Cup for the first time since they were the Dallas Burn, and they have a franchise regular, a veteran goalkeeper and a pair of rising stars to thank.
McCarty’s goal in the 38th minute came with the help of league MVP candidate David Ferreira, who set up the tally with a cross from the left to youngster Brek Shea. The US international then outmuscled RSL defender Tony Beltran and chested the ball down to a streaking McCarty, who took one touch and beat RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
McCarty - who scored just one goal in 21 matches during the regular season while limited with a hamstring injury - was the only field player left on the FC Dallas roster since they last reached the postseason in 2007, when they fell to the eventual champion Houston Dynamo.
Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, saw their reign as MLS champions come to an end in the most surprising of fashions. After losing the series opener 2-1 at Pizza Hut Park last weekend, RSL were more than willing to decide the fate of the two-leg series at Rio Tinto Stadium, where they hadn’t lost since May of 2009, a span of 32 games across all competitions.
But they struggled at times without suspended star Javier Morales and were clearly forced to gamble and stretch their form after giving up the early McCarty goal. They mustered a series of genuine scoring chances just before and after halftime, but couldn’t sour a brilliant night for FC Dallas veteran goalkeeper Kevin Hartman until second-half substitute Robbie Findley pounded home a shot off a header from defender Nat Borchers in the 79th minute.
Hartman made five saves on the night, but none were bigger than a kick save in the 49th minute that somehow stoned a breakaway chance for RSL striker Fabian Espíndola. The Argentine import was pesky all night on the left flank for RSL, but he also missed a wide open chance in the 40th minute that was the team’s best chance of the first half.
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy picked up a loose ball near the top of the penalty box and blasted a shot that Hartman punched directly back to a wide open Espíndola, whose header rocketed over the crossbar.
Borchers also had a looping header bounce back off the crossbar in the 74th minute, and Findley popped a header over the goal in the 75th as Real Salt Lake pressured for some late heroics.
But for the first time in more than a year, the bounces simply didn’t go RSL’s way when it counted, leaving FC Dallas to turn back the clock and celebrate a remarkable turnaround season that will continue at least another week.