FRISCO, Texas – In a game where FC Dallas started three rookies and had five starters unavailable due to suspensions and injuries, Saturday night’s game with Toronto FC looked like one in which FCD’s 12-game unbeaten streak might be in jeopardy.
But those fill-ins performed well, and a 47th-minute goal by Jeff Cunningham in his first start since June 5 was the deciding blow in a 1-0 win. FCD have now won five straight at home and increased their undefeated run to 13 matches.
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“A very good result for FC Dallas with the three points,” FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman told reporters after the win. “It was a game I was excited about because we had a lot of new people going on the field and getting an opportunity.”
Cunningham was filling in for injured starter Milton Rodriguez, who missed the last two training sessions of the week due to a shoulder injury suffered in a draw at Columbus last weekend.
His goal – the 129th of his career – leaves him just three shy of Jaime Moreno for the most in MLS history. Cunningham’s eighth tally of the year was set up by a very unselfish play by Marvin Chavez.
And Chávez was another replacement, filling in for right midfielder Atiba Harris, one of two starters out due to yellow card accumulation. For much of the night, the Honduran’s pace created a number of problems for the Reds.
“A very unselfish play by Chávez, putting the ball over to Jeff,” Hyndman said. “He had probably about 40 yards between him and the goal. He played it across to Jeff, which became a nice goal for Jeff to pick up.”
The Honduran speedster was making his first start since July 11 at Seattle.
“David [Ferreira] gave me a beautiful ball,” Chávez said. “I had the opportunity to shoot it, but I laid it off to Jeff. I’m a player that thinks about the team first and me later. I saw that Jeff had a way better opportunity than me, so I gave it to him.”
He was also clearly glad to get another opportunity to be in the first 11.
“Atiba was out and I wanted to take the opportunity,” Chávez said. “I came in there and felt confident. I wanted to do well.”
The other replacement starter was Brazilian rookie Jackson Gonçalves, who started at defensive mid for captain Daniel Hernandez, suspended after picking up his fifth yellow last weekend in Columbus.
Jackson spent the first 53 minutes at the holding spot but moved to center back in the 54th after starter George John left the pitch with a hamstring injury. In the 75th minute, the versatile Brazilian stopped a shot by TFC’s O’Brian White by clearing it off the touchline.
“Tonight, [Jackson] played well in two spots we didn’t bring him for,” Hyndman said. “He’s also played right fullback and right midfield for us. He’s probably been the most versatile player on our team and he’s probably been here a month.”
Jackson was one of four rookies to play in Saturday’s game, three of whom started. Third-round draft pick Eric Alexander got his fourth straight start at the linking midfield spot while center back Zach Loyd, the fifth overall pick in January’s SuperDraft, started his fourth straight game in the back.
The other rookie to see action was forward Ruben Luna, a product of the FCD youth system who made his MLS debut as a substitute for Cunningham in the 82nd minute. The 18-year-old nearly scored in his debut in stoppage time, but had his goal disallowed by an offside call.
In all, said 'keeper Kevin Hartman, the contributions of the non-regulars on Saturday proved that Dallas can call on anyone on the roster, and they're ready to step up.
"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle and we were prepared for it," said MLS' Player of the Month for August. "We had some guys this season that haven’t necessarily gotten a ton of minutes step up. They showed exactly what they bring to the table. They really proved that they are assets coming off of the bench."