FRISCO, Texas – It was a moment of pure audacity turned ecstasy.
Alan Velasco – still just 20 years old – elected to chip his decisive penalty to lift FC Dallas over Minnesota United and into the Western Conference Semifinal.
The sold-out crowd at Toyota Stadium had already seen FC Dallas battle back from a 1-0 deficit to force extra time and, eventually, a penalty shootout. Goalkeeper Maarten Paes gave Dallas the advantage by saving Wil Trapp’s attempt down to his right. Franco Jara, Sebastian Lletget, Jesús Ferreira and FCD captain Matt Hedges all converted to set the stage for their young teammate to write his name into FC Dallas lore. Velasco obliged.
The gutsiest of penalties capped off an overall gutsy performance from Velasco. It was the Argentine’s first start in well over a month after injuring his quadricep in early September. If there was any lingering pain or lack of fitness, Velasco didn’t show it.
“It was a game full of tension and stress throughout the match,” he said afterwards. “It was my first ever playoff game and the boys were fully focused. In the penalty kicks, (head coach) Nico asked who wanted to shoot and I told him I wanted to be the fifth taker. He was able to organize the penalty kick takers and it helped us throughout the shootout.”
The confidence to volunteer for the fifth (and typically) final penalty speaks to Velasco’s makeup as a player. He doesn’t shy away from the biggest moments. He longs for the spotlight and relishes the sport’s most pressurized situations.
“Some players have a special gene,” head coach Nico Estevez said after the game. “He’s a competitor. He wants to win, he wants to make FC Dallas big. It’s not only the quality he gave to the team, it’s the work he does. It’s amazing.”
“The kid has ice in his veins, that’s all I can say,” FCD president Dan Hunt told reporters in the locker room. “When you watch the replay, it seems like the ball is just suspended in the air. But what a fabulous soccer player. And that’s what you want, players who can step up in big moments.”
It was Hunt who signed Velasco in February for a club-record fee from Independiente in Argentina. The prodigious winger was brought to Dallas for moments – and performances – exactly like the one he delivered late Monday night. It would be understandable given Velasco’s young years and recent lack of game time if he were to have played a smaller part in extra time or the shootout. But that’s just not who he is. It took grit and a rare self-belief to provide that magical moment at the death.
"I was very tired to be honest, and I felt like I was cramping in my calves,” Velasco admitted. “I told Nico I did not want to come off because of the importance of this game. I was coming off limited minutes and almost over a month of not playing regularly. Tonight, I played all 120 minutes and luckily my legs held up. I'm just glad to have come away with the win."
That win means FC Dallas’ MLS Cup dreams are alive. A Western Conference Semifinal matchup with in-state rivals Austin FC awaits next Sunday. The clubs traded blows twice already this year with neither team able to separate themselves and come out on top. But there will be no draw this time around. Something will have to give. Someone will have to be the difference.
It could well be Alan Velasco.