FRISCO, Texas — If one could win an MLS championship on experience alone, FC Dallas would be entering the MLS Cup Playoffs as the favorites.
Dallas have six players with postseason experience and two — Kevin Hartman and Ugo Ihemelu — have won MLS Cups. All told, these six players, five of whom have been starters for much of the year, have a combined 90 games of playoff experience.
“I think they’ll bring that experience since they’re players that have been there,” FCD manager Schellas Hyndman said. “If you look at our roster, very few of our players have been to the playoffs. A lot of our games have been in playoff-like environments. The difference is a continuation of competing for a championship or being eliminated. These are high-pressure games.”
At the top of the list is goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who holds the league record for most playoff appearances by a goalkeeper (44) while with the LA Galaxy and Kansas City Wizards. Hartman started for MLS Cup-winning teams in LA in both 2002 and 2005.
Right behind Hartman is forward Jeff Cunningham, who has 19 games of playoff soccer under his belt with Columbus and Colorado. Cunningham scored a goal for the Rapids in the second leg of the 2005 Western Conference semifinals against Dallas in Frisco. The veteran striker also converted a PK to help Colorado advance via penalty kicks.
FCD captain Daniel Hernandez has 18 games of playoff experience earned with the Galaxy and the New England Revolution. In fact, his last playoff appearance came in Frisco as he started for the Revolution in MLS Cup 2006. The Revs lost to Houston on PKs.
Though he remembers his previous trips to the playoffs fondly, he admits there is something extra-special about making it with FC Dallas, especially given he is playing for Hyndman, who also coached him at SMU.
“[I'm] really proud to wear the FC Dallas jersey, represent my hometown, be here in front of family and friends,” Hernandez said. “I just feel that sense of pride, playing for the Hunt family and for Schellas. Those are the people that you just want to win for.”
Ihemelu was a rookie when he played with Hartman in the 2005 playoffs. Those four games remain his only playoff experience until now.
“We won it and being a rookie, I thought this is easy and we’re going to do this every year,” Ihemelu recalls. “How hard could it be? It’s harder than you think. I’ve gotten close a few years and barely missed it but am excited to get back to the playoffs and get it going.”
Goalkeeper Dario Sala is the only member of the group who has playoff experience with Dallas, starting four postseason games in 2006 and '07. Midfielder Atiba Harris also has one playoff game on his résumé, starting once for Chivas USA in the 2008 campaign against RSL.
The fact that so many of his veteran teammates have been there before isn’t lost on 20-year-old midfielder Brek Shea.
“You can definitely see it,” Shea said on Monday. “I saw it in Kevin and Daniel today when they were training with us. You can see how hyped they are about it. They’re excited for it on and off the field. They really want the team to do well. It rubs off onto the younger players and everyone else.”
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