FC Dallas had two rookies in their first 11 for Saturday’s match at RFK Stadium against DC United and both performed well in FCD’s 3-1 win, the team’s first win in the nation’s capital since May 2005.
In fact one rookie, linking midfielder Eric Alexander, scored the game-winning goal and also assisted on another, rightfully earning Man of the Match honors. The 2010 third-round pick got his second start of the year because FCD was without veteran center back Ugo Ihemelu, who suffered a concussion in last Sunday’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia.
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Alexander’s performance was all the more impressive considering he had somewhat of a shaky start. Several giveaways in the middle of the pitch led to DC scoring chances, and were it not for some big-time saves by FCD goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, Alexander’s gaffes could have been very costly.
Towards the end of the match, in the 72nd minute, the rookie midfielder cramped up after heading the ball away after a DC corner kick. Alexander left the field for Bruno Guarda one minute later, but his strong performance further muddies the water at that position.
Dax McCarty has started at midfield for most of the year, but a strained right quadriceps muscle has forced him out of the lineup for the last few games. A timetable for McCarty’s return is uncertain and in his absence Eric Avila, Guarda and Alexander have taken turns filling in.
With Alexander’s good play at RFK and uncertainty surrounding when McCarty will return to full strength, the FCD rookie could see an extended run of starts at that spot in the next few weeks.
FCD’s other rookie starter was Zach Loyd, who replaced Ihemelu in the middle of the defense. Playing right behind Alexander, Loyd, the fifth overall pick in the 2010 Super Draft, made his ninth start of the season but first at center back. The University of North Carolina product was rock solid and his name was hardly called during the FCD broadcast, a sure sign the rookie had held his own in the central defense.
The dynamic rookie duo of Alexander and Loyd clearly weren’t the only FCD starters to deliver against the Black-and-Red. Hartman came up with a number of big saves, especially in the first half, to keep FCD in the game as their attack slowly geared up.
Just past the half-hour mark, Hartman rushed off his line and stoned Danny Allsopp, who threatened to score on a one-on-one. That block was a game-changer, as FCD scored their first of the match a few minutes later and didn’t look back.
Another noteworthy performance from an FCD veteran was that of forward Jeff Cunningham. He didn’t come on until the 64th minute for Milton Rodriguez, but Cunningham’s goal in the 92nd not only capped the game for FCD as United threatened to equalize, but it also put him just four goals shy of DC’s Jaime Moreno on the MLS career goals list.
The victory marked the 10th-straight unbeaten game for Dallas, who are steadily gaining on Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Standings.