Sham: Mulrooney keeps faith in FCD

Think it's been hard watching FC Dallas struggle the last two months?

Try being Richard Mulrooney.

Thank goodness for those two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games, or the Hoops wouldn't have won anything lately. As it is, they face a weekend game in Columbus without a win in MLS play since beating Colorado June 25. That's six league matches without gleaning three points. That's a long time, even (or especially) for a team that some were calling the best in Major League Soccer in mid-June.

You'd be forgiven for wondering if a slump would have reached such proportions were Mulrooney still on the field.

For those with short memories, Mulrooney had quickly become the engine for Dallas' early front-runners when his season was sickeningly ended by a freak injury in San Jose on May 14. The geographical irony wasn't lost on Mulrooney. His knee buckled on the same Spartan Stadium field on which he had been part of two Earthquakes MLS Cup winners. It was a non-contact injury on a bizarre night when the two teams lost five players between them to similar poltergeists.

Nor did it seem cataclysmic for FC Dallas. Surprisingly, despite what Mulrooney was growing to mean to his new team, they won seven of the next eight matches, soaring to the top of MLS West.

But no team in any sport goes through a competitive season without bumps in the road. FC Dallas has hit one, and although the problems have caused Manager Colin Clarke to shuffle his back four a couple of times already plus making a change in goal, no one doubts a losing streak would have a tougher time if it had to go through Mulrooney, too.

"It's been tough to deal with," the midfielder said by phone this week following training and a rehab session on his knee. "This is the first time at the professional level I've had to deal with something like this. I've had broken ankles in high school, but this is different.

"At first it was tough because I couldn't do anything. The doctors wouldn't let me go to practice. I wanted to start doing some coaching (on the youth level, something that's in the works now) but I couldn't do that. Honestly, the fact that the team was doing well gave me a boost. It kept me from feeling guilty. If they'd been losing then, I'd have felt like if I just hadn't gotten hurt, maybe that wouldn't be happening.

"But they were fine, and I could say to myself, 'Okay, they're going to be alright.' What's going on now, of course you like to think you could help."

Lately, Mulrooney has been cleared to do a little jogging and to return to practice, if only to watch and lend some of his experience to his mates. It can't hurt.

The morning after Mulrooney's injury, Clarke wore a sick expression. He knew what kind of role the newcomer was forging in his team. Having been injured himself as a player, Clarke also knew there was no room for pity parties.

"Life goes on," he said at the time. "It's part of the game. That's why we have a roster."

Still, some players are harder to replace, and by his own admission, Mulrooney, not normally given to self-promotion, was off to a great start.

"I was happy with my play," he says, although getting this player to talk about his own accomplishments is like pulling teeth. "I'd set a high for goals although I only played seven games."

In truth, to that point less than two months into the season, people who watched the club regularly believed he was the team's MVP to that point.

If they had Mulrooney now, FC Dallas would probably be pulling out of its funk. But if a pig laid eggs it would be a chicken. Real life is dealing with what is.

That doesn't mean, though, that Richard Mulrooney can't help. He's been through the championship wars. He's competed internationally. No one outworks him. His opinion is worth hearing, especially for his teammates.

And it's Richard Mulrooney's opinion right now that his FC Dallas teammates need to remember what they were feeling like when things were better. They need to start finding a way to have fun again.

"In the beginning," he says, "we were a club without many expectations because we had new players and hadn't had a good year last year. For sure we're not going to sneak up on anyone anymore. But right now, I'm seeing some guys waving hands at each other, complaining when things aren't going perfectly. You always want every pass, every touch to be perfect 100 per cent of the time, but it isn't, ever.

"When you're not having fun and remembering that it's a game, you stop supporting each other. That's what we need. We have to stop worrying about making a mistake or what's in the coach's mind. It's kind of manual labor right now."

There is good news, though: Mulrooney has seen teams play through this very thing and win the big prize. In fact he played on a team like that in San Jose in 2001.

"It was the same thing," he recalls. "We did well early, hit a major skid around the all star break, but then we pulled together, pulled it out, got hot at the end of the season and won it all."

This midseason derailment, Mulrooney believes, will be only a memory if FC Dallas can find that fun factor again and gather momentum at season's end, which is still two months away.

"I totally believe we can do it," he says. "This is not the end of the world. We do need to regain our defensive shape, but we can score goals. We have a lot of home games and a chance to make Pizza Hut Park our own.

"I have no doubt we'll find the formula just by working hard, being unselfish and having fun. And if we can get that momentum in the last six or seven games, believe me, the sky's the limit."

Brad Sham is in his eighth season doing play-by-play for FC Dallas television broadcasts. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.


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