In their first CONACAF Champions League foray since 2011, FC Dallas was handed a winnable but tricky draw with home-and-away matches against Nicaraguan champions Real Esteli and Guatemalan champions CSD Suchitepequez. While on paper the opponents were certainly not on the level of FC Dallas, it is never easy to play against the plucky, street smart Central American teams and the travel is always tricky.
After a win and two draws through the first three matches, FCD headed to Guatemala needing a win or a draw against Suchitepequez to advance to the continental quarterfinals for the first time in club history. When you pair that with the fact that the match was smack between the final two MLS matches of the season against Seattle and Los Angeles with FC Dallas needing four points from those to raise the Supporters' Shield, the match took on plenty of difficulty.
It's a match I will never forget as I was lucky enough to travel on the road to Guatemala with the team experiencing the armed guards and unfamiliar circumstances of Guatemala City where the match was moved to since Suchitepequez's stadium was not up to the CONCACAF standards to host the match.
Played on a national holiday, we all weren't really sure what type of crowd would show up as we were about 100 miles from Mazatenango, the home of Suchi. However, upon arriving at the stadium, there were probably already 5,000 fans in the stadium which, while it wasn't visually imposing in the 30,000-seat Estadio Mateo Flores, it showed that there would certainly be a loud and passionate crowd.
Seated in what amounts to something of a VIP area with Technical Director Fernando Clavijo, Assistant TD Luiz Muzzi and acting team doctor James Walter, the stadium had probably reached 10,000 fans by kickoff and they were louder than most sold out MLS stadiums I've been to.
After about 15 minutes, everything that could've gone wrong had and FCD was down 2-0 with the place going absolutely bonkers. However, this is an FC Dallas team with more character than any I've ever seen and you just had that feeling that they were going to come back. Getting the next goal was absolutely huge as Carlos Gruezo picked one of the biggest moments of the year to score his only goal of 2016.
With the score 2-2 at halftime, we felt pretty good that the team would pull away in the second half which they did. I'll share two quick stories from the game that will stick with me for a while:
In the section we were in, there were a father and son sitting right in front of us that we were talking with during the game. Regrettably, neither I nor Luiz had any sort of FCD gear to give to the young boy and the only branded thing we had was one of those pull-string backpacks. We gave it to the child and in the second half when the teams walked back out, the kid held it up and started cheering for FC Dallas as everyone including his dad had a good laugh.
Rain had been predicted for the evening, but despite the mugginess of the evening, it held off until about 15 minutes left in the second half. Our seats were covered but to get to the locker room after the game we had to walk down through the stands and onto the field. With about 10 minutes left in the game, the police told us it was time to go and we all huddled down the stairs in the absolutely pouring rain. Well, from the time we started the journey to the time we arrived in the shelter under the stadium, the score went from 3-2 to 5-2. Let's just say, the stress went away very quickly.
By virtue of this win, FC Dallas will face Panamanian champions Arabe Unido Thursday, February 23rd at Toyota Stadium in the first leg of the CCL Quarterfinals.
Top 10 moments of 2016 Countdown