FRISCO - You’d never hear a coach or player admit it – well maybe in the NBA – but the first game after the All-Star break is where things get intense across all major American sports leagues.
For the past couple seasons after the MLS All-Star Game, FC Dallas has found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, but 2014 is a different story. With new coach Oscar Pareja at the helm, FCD has rattled off a seven-game MLS unbeaten streak dating back to May 31 that has propelled Dallas into the thick of the MLS Western Conference playoff race and with that, some enormous games coming to Toyota Stadium over the final three months of the season starting this Saturday against Colorado.
“It’s very exciting and it’s very difficult because you can see how intense and challenging it is to get to this point where you have 33 points and you can look up at the season so far as a good run,” Pareja told FCDallas.com after practice on Thursday. “[We’re] just getting into the last stretch where every point matters and it becomes finals.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more important MLS game at Toyota Stadium in the last couple years than the one against Pareja’s former Colorado side. The term six-pointer is thrown around fairly casually, but Saturday’s match is one in the truest sense of the phrase. FCD currently sits three points above the Rapids in a tie for third in the Western Conference. With a win, Dallas could put some real distance between their playoff rivals, while a loss ties the teams back up in the playoff standings.
“We have a cliché saying that games like this against conference rivals are six-pointers and I think it’s very fair,” said Pareja. “This one will be for sure.”
“As a team we’re excited. We’ve been saying it since a couple weeks ago that every game is a playoff game for us,” said Zach Loyd. “If you look at the Western Conference, we all have about the same number of games and are within a few points of each other so coming into the last stretch of the season it’s an exciting time.”
Loyd, who scored against Colorado in their last meeting in June, is one of the few remaining FCD players from the team that went to MLS Cup in 2010 and after a couple years away, he’s exciting to be back in the thick of a playoff hunt.
“As a player that’s what you want. You want to play in the big games and perform in the big games,” said Loyd. “We’re excited and up for the challenge.”
The final six home games for FC Dallas are all against Western Conference opponents and for team captain Matt Hedges who hasn’t yet experienced an MLS playoff match, games like the one coming up on Saturday night are the reason you work so hard throughout the season.
“You want those games with a lot of pressure and tough games,” said Hedges. “That’s why you play the game. You don’t want to come out and have the game be nothing you want things to be on the line. These are the games you want to play in.”