FRISCO, Texas -- FC Dallas struggled with giving up late goals this year in matches against Chivas USA and the Houston Dynamo, but in Saturday night's 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake, it was a defensive effort in the final minutes that changed the game.
FCD have given up four goals in the final 15 minutes of matches this year, and it looked as if more late pain was to be inflicted on the home side. With the game at 1-0 in the 77th minute, RSL's Robbie Findley broke in on goal. His shot was parried by goalkeeper Chris Seitz, and the rebound fell to rookie Devon Sandoval with the goal at his mercy. He wound up to slam the ball home, but just after it left his foot, defender Matt Hedges lunged to deflect it wide with his toe.
Afterward, Sandoval was at a loss to explain what happened.
“I tried tucking it away and then I saw [Hedges] coming in and blocking it,” said Sandoval. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought I had it.”
But he didn't. Instead, Hedges’ effort to "lay out" to make the block saved a sure goal -- and maybe the match. Just four minutes later, FCD doubled their lead thanks to Jackson’s opportunistic goal.
“It changes the whole game,” center back George John said about Hedges’ game-saving play.
For his part, Hedges explained it all came down to being in the right place at the right time.
“I’m always trying to be in the right position,” Hedges told reporters after the win. “So when he was running across the box and took the shot, Seitz got a good hand on it and it kind of went behind me. I saw the guy was coming in behind, so I just laid out and tried to get into a good spot to block it.”
With the win, their third straight at home, Dallas moved into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference. But Hedges' one play had Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman seeing beyond this game, suggesting it was not only the moment of the match, but also perhaps the moment of the season so far.
“We’re a team that we’re still a little fragile when things don’t go well for us,” Hyndman said. “That mental strength and confidence and experience that we seem to continue to grow in [showed itself], and it’s one of those things where we were able to dodge that bullet."