DALLAS - Wednesday night's Fourth Round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match wasn't significant just for the final score, a 2-1 victory by FC Dallas, but also because of what the game meant to four of Dallas's starters.
Mauro Diaz and Ryan Hollingshead are veterans on this Dallas team, yet made their first competitive starts of the season in the match. It was the first start for Diaz since he suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in October 2016, and the first for Hollingshead since he fractured vertebrae in his neck in a car accident this offseason.
Conversely, Coy Craft and Reggie Cannon were two of four Homegrown players Dallas started in the match. It was the first senior-team action for Craft in 2017, while the occasion marked the professional debut for the 19-year-old Cannon.
Back In a Familiar Role
Diaz has logged just over 60 minutes of MLS action for Dallas in three appearances this season, but Wednesday's game proved to be a fitness test for the Argentine. He went the distance on a warm, humid night at Westcott Field, filling his usual role in the center of the Dallas midfield.
"In terms of playing 90 minutes, I knew that it was going to cost me and it was going to be difficult," Diaz said. "The first half was harder than the second half."
But after 45 minutes, Diaz was able to settle and began to create more from his advanced position on the field. He danced past Tulsa defenders and spread the ball wide to second-half substitutes Tesho Akindele and Michael Barrios, hinting that his ability hasn't diminished as he nears a complete return.
Hollingshead had seen even less on-field time than Diaz prior to going the distance against the Roughnecks. The Californian had just 16 minutes of game time spread out over four substitute appearances, but he played the entire match and held down the left side of the Dallas back line along with Walker Hume.
He also picked up an assist on the first-half goal scored by Craft.
"It felt good to be out there, first 90 minutes in seven months," Hollingshead said. "I need games like that to get my fitness back so it's just the start of hopefully a long stretch for me."
Despite Wednesday's game being the first time Craft and Cannon played with the FC Dallas first team this season, neither looked out of place.
Craft's 31st-minute goal was his first for the senior team, a bouncing strike that slipped under the arm of Tulsa goalkeeper Fabian Cerda. Craft remained an offensive threat for Dallas until his substitution in the 63rd minute.
"As a young guy, you always have to think about this game, that it can be a turning point in your season," Craft said. "This is my opportunity to show that I can compete over the weekends in MLS games too, you just have to go out there and do as much as you can regardless of the circumstances."
For Cannon, his professional debut could not have been scripted any better. Playing at right back next to Captain Matt Hedges, Cannon was a noticeable presence over the 90 minutes. He was quick to transition the ball from the defensive-third to the offensive-third of the field, including a lung-busting run just before halftime that saw Cannon nearly set up Cristian Colman for a goal.
"I've been waiting for this moment since the beginning of the season. It's surreal, honestly, to finally be a pro," Cannon said. "Oscar's really proud, and I'm glad I made him proud."