FRISCO, Texas – A fat lip to one player and a mid-air collision that left another winded.
Not exactly what FC Dallas wanted to see in their final training session before flying out to Los Angeles for their biggest game of the year, the Western Conference Championship (Sunday, 8 pm CT, ESPN2).
But if that’s the worst of it for FCD, they’ll take it. Friday morning’s training session was typically light for a travel day, with some casual kickabouts, a full-team game of keep-away and some breezy calisthenics. But head coach Schellas Hyndman did throw in a curveball: an 11-on-11 game of handball.
“We didn’t play much this year,” captain Daniel Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com of the friendly game, “but coach is trying to avoid contact. But it did get a little physical.”
The rules are pretty simple: Advance the ball with quick passes up the field, but finish with your feet or head. There were some fun moments, like George John’s header over center-back partner Ugo Ihemelu and Eric Avila’s ambitious scissor-kick that skied over the goal.
But Brek Shea also leveled Victor Ulloa while both were jumping for the ball and Avila also took an elbow to the mouth and left the field with an ice pack on his upper lip. None were seriously injured and the team left the Adidas practice pitch at Pizza Hut Park in good spirits before catching an afternoon flight to LAX.
“Games like [this], we just gotta go out there and have fun, get the legs loose,” Hernandez said. “That’s really all the objective today was. Guys feel good. We’re not losing focus on going down there to LA and getting a win. But it was definitely a day to get loose a little bit.”
[inline_node:323040]Rulers of the Galaxy
Hyndman didn’t budge Friday from his assertion earlier this week that he’d field Shea and Atiba Harris on the wings to mix it up on set pieces and combat the Galaxy’s size, but did add that he’s been impressed with their preparations this week.
FCD will also head into Sunday’s match at close to full-strength. Though Milton Rodríguez and Heath Pearce remain out, Hyndman will have the full complement of players on whom he’s relied through the MLS Cup Playoffs and is comfortable with his lineup.
Hernandez, who has been dealing with a swollen right knee, is expected to play, as is Jackson, who is still smarting from a sore hamstring and did not train this week.
Hyndman did intimate that the Brazilian should be OK to assume the right-back spot at the Home Depot Center and that rookie Zach Loyd will be his first choice off the bench to spell the defense. Youngsters Eric Alexander and Ruben Luna figure to get minutes as well.
Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman is still not 100 percent recovered from the MCL sprain he suffered in September, but said he’s improving. He’s still not sure if he’ll be able to take goal kicks – Hernandez and Jair Benitez assumed those duties in both legs against Real Salt Lake.
Hyndman has a simple plan for his pregame speech before Sunday’s game: Remind his team that they have a chance to do something they’ve never done.
“FC Dallas has never won a conference championship,” he said of what he planned to tell his players. “That is something we very much want to do. In all the years of existence, we’ve not been able to do it.”
FCD are one step from the MLS Cup final for the first time in 11 years.