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History Lesson: Dallas vs. Los Angeles

FRISCO, Texas -- On Sunday, FC Dallas will be playing in the Western Conference Championship for the first time in 11 years. Ironically, they'll be facing the same side they met more than a decade ago -- the Supporters’ Shield-winning LA Galaxy. Back then the Conference Final was a best of three series, and Los Angeles won the first and third games to advance to the MLS Cup. 

Game One: Rose Bowl -- Pasadena, California

Game One took place on Halloween night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  The home side would strike first, with Mauricio Cienfuegos notching an unassisted tally in the 39th minute.  Dallas Burn mid-season acquisition Ariel Graziani scored in the 75th minute to tie the game up, but  Ezra Hendrickson would score the game-winner for LA in dramatic fashion in the 90th minute, making the final score 2-1.

FC Dallas broadcaster Bobby Rhine was a rookie in 1999 and, although he didn’t play in the series against LA, was on the 18-man roster for all three games. 

“The irony is that the [last] goal in that first game was by Ezra Hendrickson, who ended up playing here in Dallas back in 2003,” said Rhine.  “You lose that first game, you know it’s a best of three so you know you’re returning home and you know you have to win that game at home.”

Game Two: Cotton Bowl -- Dallas, Texas

Game Two was in Dallas’ Cotton Bowl, but LA would once again strike first, this time from forward Carlos Hermosillo in the 13th minute.  But once again, Graziani would answer the call for the Burn, scoring in the 33rd minute to send the teams into the half tied at one.

Hermosillo got back on the board for LA in the 54th minute, giving the Galaxy a familiar 2-1 lead.  But unwilling to be swept out of the playoffs, Graziani scored his (and the Burn’s) third goal of the series to tie the game up in the 73rd minute. 

Ironically, a younger Kevin Hartman was in net for the Galaxy at the time.  He said he can clearly remember the impact Graziani was capable of having on a game. 

“I always felt Graziani was one of the better players in the history of Dallas,” recalled Hartman.  “He was an unbelievable forward and somebody that was always dangerous.  We had some great games.”

Back then, games that ended in a tie went to a shootout, a practice that Major League Soccer has since abandoned (teams now play two 15-minute halves first).  In Game Two of the 1999 Western Conference Championship, former Burn standout and current head of the FC Dallas Development Academy Oscar Pareja took part in the shootout.

“It was a rollercoaster in terms of feelings because the [first] game that we lost in the last minute with the goal by Ezra Hendrickson was very difficult for us,” said Pareja.  “Being a part of the shootout was a little awkward for me because I wasn’t used to it.  No one else in the world played in shootouts and the league started them the year before.”

The shootout would end in favor of Dallas, tying the series at a game apiece and forcing a decisive Game Three back at the Rose Bowl.

“It was different because it was one game that was going to define everything,” said Pareja.  “The teams know each other, there is a lot of time to study each other going into a game [three] that is going to define everything.  The last one is the last one.  This is it.  You are going [to MLS Cup] or you are going to stay home.”

Game Three: Rose Bowl -- Pasadena, California

Unfortunately for Dallas, Game Three was indeed the squad's last game of the season.

“The game went resoundingly in LA’s favor in that game,” recalled Rhine.  “They scored the first three goals of the game and it was basically over until Jason [Kreis] got one in the final ten minutes to finish 3-1.  They just came out with a lot of energy, a lot of life to their attack and really put us under pressure from the get-go.”

The LA Galaxy advanced to the MLS Cup that year, where they lost to DC United. Dallas returned home to Texas, where it did not sniff a Western Conference Championship for another 11 years. But aside from 2010's repeat of the 1999 matchup, there are more historical parallels between the two sides' current playoff runs.  

In 1999, the Dallas Burn advanced to the WCC by eliminating defending MLS Cup champion Chicago Fire in the first round.  In 2010, FC Dallas advanced to the WCC by eliminating defending MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake in the first round.

In 1999, the LA Galaxy were coached by Sigi Schmid.  In 2010, the LA Galaxy advanced to the WCC by defeating the Seattle Sounders, who are now coached by none other than Sigi Schmid.

In 1999, the Dallas Burn were led on the field by league MVP Jason Kreis.  In 2010, FC Dallas advanced to the WCC by defeating Real Salt Lake, who are now coached by Jason Kreis.

And finally, in 1999 the LA Galaxy lost in the MLS Cup Final.  The following year they lost the WCC to the Kansas City Wizards, sending the Wizards to their first MLS Cup appearance where they won their first MLS Cup Championship.  In 2009, the LA Galaxy lost in the MLS Cup Final.  If they lose the WCC to FC Dallas, they will send FCD to their first MLS Cup appearance. 

I’ll let you connect the dots from there.