FRISCO - To a man, FC Dallas knows the end of the regular season didn’t go as they had hoped. But even after three straight losses to end the season – and a fall from first to fourth in the Western Conference – Oscar Pareja has no intention of sulking into Wednesday’s knockout game against Portland.
“What I can tell you is that this group is strong,” the FC Dallas manager said Tuesday. “I can tell you I can’t have a better group. These players have been fantastic during the season. They deserve and have the right to be in the playoffs.
“Nobody gave it to them. They earned it.”
Pareja’s message is one of optimism, but his players also feel his sense of urgency. A loss at home on Halloween night would end the team’s 57-point season abruptly.
“It’s going to take a special group of players to be able to even advance through the first round because this is the road we’ve chosen for ourselves,” defender Reggie Cannon said. “But Oscar is stressing that we have to keep going and we have to keep our heads up.
“There’s no time to feel sorry for yourselves.”
Sunday’s 2-1 loss in Colorado - a game FC Dallas led until the 79th minute - left a bad taste in players’ mouths, but it also may have delivered the perfect warning as the postseason loomed: No team can afford to sit on a lead.
“We let our foot go off the gas,” Cannon said. “I think after we scored one, we kind of relaxed and we gave them a chance. We had them in the corner; we had them pinned.
“We’ve just got to finish them off, and that’s something this team has to learn, including myself.”
For midfielder Victor Ulloa, that means 90-plus minutes of full concentration: “It comes down to small details, set pieces, the movement off the ball. It comes down to the small things that we have to be concentrating on for the full game in order to get the result.”
Based on their two draws earlier this season, Wednesday’s game should be a fast-paced affair with plenty of attacking opportunities for both sides. The teams’ flowing style of play will only be intensified by the winner-take-all nature of the Knockout Round.
Portland enters the game having rested many starters in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Vancouver. The Timbers are hoping to become the first road team to win a midweek Knockout Round contest since the format started in 2015.
“Portland is always a good team, and they’re a tough challenge -- especially in this stage,” Cannon said. “We’ve just got to learn how to close out games and shut them down. Hopefully we have the support backing us, and we’ll be able to advance.”
The winner of Wednesday night’s game will play the first of a two-match series at home Sunday against either Sporting Kansas City or the Seattle Sounders.
“The mentality is, we have to do it,” captain Matt Hedges said. “There’s no excuses. We have to be concentrating for 90 minutes and win. That’s it.”