After a record-setting 6-0 win against Kansas City on Saturday night at Pizza Hut Park, FC Dallas knew matching that performance would be a tall order on Thursday night against Houston. But a 20th-minute goal from Jeff Cunningham proved the difference as FCD prevailed 1-0 over their in-state rival.
"I think we really started off well," FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman said. "The first ball the defense made a mistake on, Jeff had a chance to put us ahead in the first 20 seconds. It just seemed like that pressure continued to come. Jeff did a really good job getting isolated on one-on-ones. It was really unfortunate that he didn't get a goal earlier."
Almost from the first whistle, Cunningham seemed a man on a mission. His first chance came 13 seconds in, an attempt that went wide right and in the 12th minute, he drew a penalty kick after Houston defender Bobby Boswell took him down in the box. Cunningham missed that attempt but redeemed himself less than 10 minutes later. He finished the night with a team-high four shots.
"I thought our team was attacking well," Hyndman said. "I didn't think Houston was really in the game early. Second half, we came out and our idea was to not give up any scoring chances in the first 15 minutes. I really thought it was another great team performance in a game we deserved to win. In the past, we would be up and find a way to give up goals. This is a good win for us."
Houston finished the night with just six total shots, one of which was on frame and Hyndman credited left back Jair Benitez with shutting down the Dynamo attack up his side of the field.
"I thought Jair played extremely well in the back," he said. "Houston is very good on the services and he was able to shut everything down on that side."
While the night was overwhelmingly positive for FCD, there were a few downsides. In the 22nd minute, captain Pablo Ricchetti was booked for dissent, giving him five yellows for the season, which means he will miss next Saturday's match at Columbus.
And in the 59th minute, Hyndman had to go to his bench when center back Kyle Davies, who has performed well of late, suffered a groin injury and had to come off for Daniel Torres. "Not sure (about Kyle's status), maybe a hernia," the FCD coach said.
With rookie George John, who has started several games at center back, out with an injury, FCD could be particularly thin at center back when they face the Crew on Aug. 15.
"I think this was Pablo's fifth yellow, so we're going into Columbus without two center backs," Hyndman said. "It's a (darn) shame. Every time we seem to get going, an unforeseen situation occurs."
For FCD midfielder Dave van den Bergh, the win boiled down to a simple bottom line.
"All in all, I thought we outplayed them, which is something else considering they're the best team in the league," he said. "For a second there, when we missed the PK, I was like here we go again. It was déjà vu from the last game we played against them, but we came back and Jeff had a great goal. The most important thing right now is we're defending well. It seems to be holding up well. Two clean sheets in a row, to me that more than anything says we're doing a good job."
Earlier in the week, FCD defender Drew Moor talked about his side's past struggles against the Dynamo being something of the past. He and his teammates clearly cast any doubts aside tonight about their ability to compete with the two-time league champs.
"We worked extremely hard this week knowing this was a big game not just because it's Houston but because it was another opportunity to get three points," Moor said. "We worked extremely hard and were organized tonight. We got after them early and absorbed pressure when they brought numbers at us. I don't think they had too many good opportunities, which is a good sign for us. We were organized and disciplined. This is the time of year to start playing that way."
Thursday's win was not only FCD's second in a row but it also marked their first four-match unbeaten streak at home since 2006. It was also the first time the club has kept clean sheets in 2009 and just their third shutout all season.
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com.