The first and second halves were night and day as FC Dallas defeated Chivas USA 5-2 at The Home Depot Center on Sunday. After taking only two shots in the first, the visitors exploded for a four-goal second half.
"We came out in the second half and played the way we should have played the whole game," said FC Dallas midfielder Ronnie O'Brien, who scored a goal and assisted on two others.
Although Dallas jumped out to an early 1-0 lead just 30 seconds after the opening whistle, the rest of the half was dominated largely by Chivas USA, who were unlucky not to do more with their eight first-half shots. The lack of finishing would come back to haunt them as Dallas found their way in the second 45 minutes.
In the second half, Dallas found its rhythm and outshot Chivas USA 11-5 -- four of which beat goalkeeper Martin Zuniga, making his first MLS appearance -- en route to claiming the win and sole possession of first place in the Western Conference.
O'Brien was instrumental in the turnaround. After assisting on the opening goal -- the first of rookie midfielder Aaron Pitchkolan's MLS career -- O'Brien assisted on another three minutes after the start of the second half and scored one of his own two minutes later, in the 51st minute.
"Ronnie's been playing magnificent this last month, covering every blade of grass," said Clarke. "I can't say enough about him."
"Everything is going in for me at the moment but I still say that I'm lethal from 25 yards out and horrible from 10 yards," O'Brien said. While horrible may be a gross exaggeration, he is spot on about his ability from distance. O'Brien's goal came after he took a pass, eluded a Chivas USA defender, and ripped a shot from some 23 yards past Zuniga.
The goal gave Dallas a 3-1 lead, which was cut to 3-2 a minute later, when Isaac Romo stole one back for the home side. FC Dallas kept its cool, however, and held on for the important win.
"We're now in first place and although it's still early on, we've been on the road for six out of our first nine games," said Clarke. "We just want to hang in there for these next three road games and make it home intact."
Those three matches -- at D.C. United, Real Salt Lake and the Chicago Fire -- set up a potentially crucial home game against fellow Western Conference contender, the Los Angeles Galaxy. FC Dallas currently holds a three-point advantage over the second place Galaxy but have played two more matches.
Making it through the current road trip healthy will be important for Dallas, who recently lost midfielder Richard Mulrooney for the season to a torn ACL.
"Losing Mulrooney was a big, big loss," said Clarke. "He's been the heart and soul of our team the for first part of the season and he was our most consistent player and obviously you can't replace someone of his quality but we've got to find other ways to compensate and other people have stepped in and done a decent job."
One of those players who has been a pleasant surprise is Pitchkolan, a rookie midfielder taken in the second round of this year's supplemental draft out of West Virginia. Pitchkolan not only helped shore up the Dallas engine room but proved to be an offensive catalyst, scoring the first goal of the match -- redirecting a Ramon Nunez's shot past Zuniga -- and assisted on Eddie Johnson's goal in the 69th minute.
"He got us off to a great start," said Clarke. "He's a young kid and he had a great preseason and kept working and working and he's getting better everyday."
Pitchkolan was one of five Dallas players to score, a credit to their depth.
"It doesn't matter who gets on the scorer's sheet as long as we get the result," said O'Brien.
Added Pitchkolan: "We're not focused around one or two players and there are a lot of guys on the team with offensive capabilities."
Danny BUeno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.