FC Dallas will open up a stretch of three games in just over a week’s time for the fifth time already this season on Saturday night against Real Salt Lake - but no week to date has been as hectic as the one they’re about to embark on.
After Saturday’s match in Salt Lake City, FCD will head straight to Nicaragua for their second CONCACAF Champions League group stage match against Real Esteli FC on Wednesday, before flying to Houston to face the Dynamo a week from Saturday. All told, the team will rack up over 5,100 miles in air travel alone - not to mention 200 miles by bus while in Nicaragua traveling from the airport in Managua to Esteli and back.
“It is a big challenge. At the same time, it’s another big opportunity to show the character of the group, opportunity for some players that could be in the lineups,” head coach Oscar Pareja said. “We’re going to try and handle it the way we have done in the past - trying to take care of ourselves, be strong in the training and mentally just be strong too.”
Heading to any foreign country for a match provides its own set of challenges, but Dallas will spend three full days in Nicaragua ahead of Wednesday - training in the Central American country on Monday and Tuesday. Given that their opponent, Real Esteli, will be fighting for their CCL lives after a 1-0 loss to C.D. Suchitepequez on Thursday, the stakes are even higher.
“For me, it’s a great opportunity to grow as a team in a different atmosphere against a rival that we’re not used to playing,” Pareja said. “All those experiences just make us better and I hope that it can help us in one way or another.”
“I’ve played in foreign countries where anything can happen - the bus could be late, the food may not be as good as we’re used to. It’s going to be different and we’re just going to have to be mindful of it,” midfielder Kellyn Acosta said. “Everyone has different circumstances, but at the end of the day we have a job to do and we’re going to get it done.”
And they’ll be looking to get it done in the games on either side of Wednesday’s match as well, with a pair of important MLS contests as the regular season enters the final 10 weeks.
Coming into the weekend, Salt Lake sits just 8 points back of FCD. With the teams facing each other twice down the stretch, the match carries major playoff seeding implications. Dallas stands to see a vastly different RSL side than they saw on June 25 at Toyota Stadium, when Jeff Cassar’s team - in the middle of a three games in a week of their own - played without many of their usual starters.
Then once the team returns to the States, they’ll prepare for their final Texas Derby game of the season against the Houston Dynamo, knowing full well that anything can happen in rivalry games.
“They’re [all] big games. We’re aiming to get the Supporters’ Shield, so playing against RSL, that’s a huge game for us to get the three points. We won’t be satisfied with just a point,” Acosta said. “And then we finish off at Houston, it’s a rivalry game and we always want to beat them no matter what - whether it’s a pickup game, a friendly game, FIFA, anything. We want to beat them.”