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FCD duo return to roots

TAMPA, Fla. -- FC Dallas is currently in the midst of the club's final trip of the preseason, a six-day excursion to Tampa where they will play two games. For two members of Schellas Hyndman's squad -- forward Jeff Cunningham and defender/midfielder Anthony Wallace -- this trip represents a homecoming of sorts as both come from the Tampa area.

Cunningham, the reigning Budweiser Golden Boot winner after a 17-goal season in 2009, calls Crystal River home, which is about 80 miles north of Tampa. The 33-year-old forward is entering his 13th season in MLS and second full campaign with FCD. Once again, he will be expected to shoulder much of his club's offensive load.

His teammate Wallace is from St. Petersburg and like Cunningham, the versatile 21-year-old played collegiately at South Florida. "Wally" has performed well in preseason at both right back and left mid but figures to provide depth at either spot at least to start the season. However, if he continues his strong showings, he could very well push his way into Hyndman's first 11 at some point this season.

Both are clearly glad to be back in such familiar surroundings.

"For me, it's a good experience. I spent a lot of my years here and it's always good to come home to play in front of family," said Cunningham, whose mother still resides in Crystal River. "Knowing there's no longer an MLS team here, it's good they get to see me play. It's great to come back and see some familiar faces."

Wallace agrees. "Yeah, it's a good feeling being close to family and friends. That's always good and of course, having them come out and watch me that's even better," he said.

Cunningham has seen and expects to see plenty of familiar faces during the trip.

"Yeah (I have seen) a lot of players that I played with in the past or in college, I have seen and I hadn't seen them in a while. They have come out and shown their support," the veteran scorer said. "It's always good to come back to where it all started and be able to perform."

Even though one, Cunningham, is assured of a spot in the first 11 while Wallace will likely start the year on the bench, both agree this preseason has gone pretty well for FCD.

"I think we're off to a very good start right now. We have a good understanding of each other and hopefully, we can pick up where we left off at the end of last year," Cunningham said.

Wallace agreed: "I think it's gone pretty well. Of course, I came in pretty fit, so I think that's helped me a lot without having to adjust to the whole preseason routine," he said. "I came in pretty ready for it."

Even though he has received a considerable amount of playing time this season, the FCD defender/midfielder admits he doesn't yet know what his role will be heading into the 2010 season opener with Houston on March 27.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not too sure yet but we'll find out," Wallace said. "I'm pretty comfortable wherever (they want to play me). Whatever gets me playing time, I'll play there."

This is actually Cunningham's second stay in Tampa this preseason. He was also in camp with the US national team there last month and developed a groin injury in a friendly with El Salvador. However, he is now healthy and ready to roll.

"Yeah, I'm healthy. I feel good. I've been in the US camp and got off to a good start," the FCD forward said. "I've been training for a few months now, so I feel fit and ready to go."

This talented duo discussed their roots in the area before the team departed Frisco earlier this week.

"Yeah, he has a lot of roots there as well. It's always good to come home," Cunningham said. "We talked about our playing days here and people we know. We talked about coming back. We're both very excited about being back here and seeing people we haven't seen in a while. We have two games to kind of show ourselves."

For Wallace, a big reason for his success this preseason has been a newfound focus on the mental side of the game. "It's just a new mindset that I have," he said. "I really want to get things going in my career. I figured I'd take that on myself."

That approach and his teammate's performance thus far hasn't surprised Cunningham in the least.

"From the day I got there, I've always said that he's a formidable player," he said. "Now he's fit and is pushing to get into the team. He has a bright future ahead of him."

Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com.