FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas left it late – very late – to earn its first playoff triumph in four seasons with an all-too-dramatic penalty shootout victory over the Portland Timbers at Providence Park Sunday night.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the 90th minute, it looked like yet another playoff disappointment for Dallas. But it wasn’t to be. Teenaged Homegrown Ricardo Pepi came off the bench to give FCD the unlikeliest of equalizers with just two minutes of added time remaining, becoming the youngest playoff goal-scorer in Dallas history at 17 years and 318 days old.
“As a team, we knew we were going to have one more opportunity and fortunately that was the chance,” Pepi said after the match. “We kept fighting even after they scored late in the game in the 82nd minute, we never stopped. We kept fighting for our goal. In the 93rd minute, the goal came, and it brought a lot of confidence to the team to keep pushing and to keep fighting until the very end.”
But the heroics weren’t finished. After two scoreless extra time periods, penalties were required. And up stepped goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, who’d made seven saves during the 120 minutes in what was his first MLS playoff game. After Dallas converted an MLS-record eight consecutive penalties, Maurer had his moment. The 32-year-old (who spent the last two campaigns primarily as a backup) leapt to his left to deny Jorge Villafaña’s spot-kick and sent FC Dallas to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Although it was a moment of ecstasy for Dallas players and fans alike, Maurer – who’d gotten fingertips to two previous Portland penalties – had altogether different emotions during the shootout.
“I was frustrated,” he said. “I felt like I was getting good reads on the PKs, I got really close on a few, even the one that went down the middle I thought I was going to be able to get my foot on it. I just knew that (our) guys were taking their shots so well that I was like ‘I just got to get one, just got to get one and we’re going to win it’. I was pissed, to be honest. I was like ‘I’m saving this next one’ and that will do it.”
The victory in Portland was also second-year head coach Luchi Gonzalez’s first in the postseason. And while there’s still a long way to go, Sunday’s triumph is the first step towards redemption after last season’s playoff comeback attempt fell short in Seattle.
“This group believed in themselves when a lot of others didn’t, and that’s always going to be the most important—that internal belief,” Luchi said after the team’s postgame celebrations. “What a great set of human beings that I get to work with. They just showed today that they can also be warriors on the field. So proud of them, so proud of the staff, so proud of ownership that’s always supported us in the ups and downs.”
But the work is far from over. Dallas will face either Los Angeles FC or defending champions and top-seeded Seattle Sounders in the conference semis. Should LAFC pull off the upset on Tuesday night, FCD would host the matchup with Bob Bradley and co. at Toyota Stadium. If not, Dallas will travel to Lumen Field for the second-consecutive postseason with a chance to reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2015.