FRISCO - The FC Dallas defense has started off 2017 in mid-season form for large stretches of their matches, but a disturbing trend has begun to take shape.
Through nine matches across all competitions, Dallas has recorded three clean sheets and allowed just nine goals. The problem is not so much that the team is giving up goals - it's when they're doing it. Four of the nine have come in the 90th minute or later.
"Just keeping our focus for those last five minutes in a game, that's the most important time when things tend to happen," Matt Hedges said. "We've been organized, I think we've been playing well, but those goals that happen at the end of games we lose points because of it, so we need to stop that."
During CCL play in Panama in early March, FCD gave up two 90th-minute-plus goals to drop Leg Two, 2-1. With a large lead in the series, it was a moot point, but still a frustrating loss. Again in CCL, the team appeared poised to head to extra time against Pachuca with a spot in the Final on the line, at least until a 92nd minute strike from Hirving Lozano - his second in the span of 12 minutes. Friday night, the team looked to have three points in the bag in San Jose, but gave up a 94th minute equalizer and took a draw with the Quakes that felt more like a loss.
"The game teaches you something every time you play. We're learning, it's early and it's something hopefully we can look back on at the end of the year where we learned a lot in these games, said defender Walker Zimmerman. "Learning how to close them out and learning how to stay tuned in to the final whistle and maintain that concentration for the whole game. It's something we're going to put emphasis into this one."
During the opening 90 minutes, Dallas has been one of the stoutest defensive teams - especially in MLS. Two of their three goals in league play have come from the penalty spot and only three goals against all year have come in the opening 90 minutes during the run of play.
"It's really important. If you keep a zero, you have a good chance of winning the game," Zimmerman said. "It's a really big positive that we've started off the year keeping goals down in the run of play - two PKs we've given up this year, which is another issue that we'll maintain our focus on. We're working on our complete defensive structure, that's not just the back four and the goalie, it's the whole team from Maxi [Urruti] and Cristian [Colman] up top to Jesse [Gonzalez] or [Chris] Seitz in goal."
"It is crucial. It has been very painful for us to first give up the goal in Mexico...and unfortunately it happened again in the last minute [in San Jose]," head coach Oscar Pareja said. "The game teaches you that the 1st minute and the 94th minute, and the 50th and the 30th minute - all of them are the same and an important part of the game, What happened is that it hurts the most, it gives you a different feeling when you're on the other side scoring in the last minute. The concentration during the whole game needs to be what we aim for and that's the lesson that we have."
Dallas will try to take that lesson into their second meeting of the season with fellow-unbeaten side Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Frisco, where they're unbeaten in 23 of their last 24 dating back to 2015.