FRISCO, Texas – Ugo Ihemelu’s game-winning goal never should have happened.
With Thursday’s match still scoreless deep in the second half, the FC Dallas captain was cramping up and even came to the sideline a couple of times. With about 13 minutes to go, head coach Schellas Hyndman thought about taking him out.
“When he came over to the side, we entered conversation about pulling him out because he wasn’t really sure if he could get that cramping out his leg,” Hyndman told reporters after the match.
It was clear Ihemelu was in tremendous pain, leaving the FCD boss in a predicament with a big decision to make. The veteran center back said he knew he could play through the pain, and they agreed to keep him in the game.
“I knew if I had to come out last minute, I would pull myself out or they would pull me out,” Ihemelu told reporters. “Once I got worked on, it calmed. I just kept pushing for as long as I could.”
It proved to be the right call. Deep into stoppage time, Ihemelu turned hero with a header that sent the home crown into a frenzy and gave his team a 1-0 win over New England.
“One of things we talked about was to challenge yourself tonight and to challenge your teammates,” Hyndman said. “What a great example for a captain, isn’t it, to stay in there and play ‘til the end and to come out on top with the game-winning goal.”
The goal came in the 95th minute after fellow defender Zach Loyd delivered a perfect ball from the right side of the box on a free kick. Ihemelu was able to get his head on it and came away with the score.
“It always feels great when you work really hard and get a good result,” Ihemelu said. “Zach isn’t our usual free-kick taker, but he stepped up. It takes a lot of courage to do that. We made eye contact, and I knew it was coming to me. He served some good balls earlier so I was confident I could get my head on it if I just created space.”
This was a victory FC Dallas desperately needed after dropping two straight on the road. Ihemelu hopes the excitement and momentum will carry over to next week and beyond.
“It means a lot for us,” he said. “We started slow, but we know we have to continue to build and get better. Teams that build and tend to get better at the end of the season are the most dangerous. With that win, we stay on track, and we’re exactly where we want to be.”