Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League play-in match against Alianza FC (9 pm CT, FOX Soccer) will mark FC Dallas’ seventh game in July in their third different country and in their third different competition.
But the club is putting all the travel numbers aside and displaying enthusiasm towards their first ever opportunity to play in the region’s highest-profile club competition.
“There really is an excitement,” FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman told reporters after the team's final training session in Dallas before heading to Central America on Tuesday afternoon. “I think the excitement is to win this — these two games and get into the next round. That’s the excitement. We deserve it. We did well last year and now we are in a good position. What we have to do now is carry through.”
To advance to the group stages, the 2010 MLS Cup runners-up first face El Salvador’s 2011 Clausura champions in a home-and-away aggregate goals play-in series.
Team captain Daniel Hernandez echoed Hyndman’s aspirations to win the play-in match against the Salvadoran side and advance to Group C where Pumas UNAM (Mexico), Tauro FC (Panama) and either Toronto FC or Real Estelí (Nicaragua) await them.
“I think it’s a very important step for us,” said Hernandez, “but I don’t think we can be content just going and playing these two games. We want to get out of these two games and get into group stage play and that’s where it will really count.”
Hyndman and Hernandez both said they expect a crazy atmosphere at Estadio Cuscatlán — the largest soccer stadium in Central America and also home to the El Salvador national team — both on the field and in the stands.
In addition to the “international atmosphere,” as Hernandez put it, that MLS teams face when they travel south of the border, there is also the unknown about the opponent they often encounter in CCL play.
But FC Dallas had some good fortune fall into their lap last weekend after they returned from New York.
Los Paquidermos traveled to Texas last weekend to face fellow Salvadoran club CD Águila for a pair of friendlies, one of which was played at FC Dallas’ old home, the Cotton Bowl.
“They did play a game that [assistant coach] Marco Feruzzi went to watch so we have a little bit of an idea,” said Hyndman. “They played the day before in Houston and he’s already got a couple of contacts there so he’s putting the information together to help us.”
Hyndman also added that Alianza are now without their star Rodolfo Zelaya — a player he said FC Dallas targeted after the Gold Cup — who signed with Russian club Alania Vladikavkaz.
“I don’t know how they are going to really adjust without him,” Hyndman said. “But I know they are going to be a heck of a team at home; they’ll be inspired.”
Hernandez agreed with his coach.
“We are looking forward and getting ready for a lot of fans — crazy fans — in El Salvador,” said FCD's captain. “It will be a great experience for some of the guys who haven’t played in international games, but again, this first game away will be important so that we can come back home and get a good result here.”