FRISCO, Texas — On a wall outside of Pizza Hut Park hangs a poster of Jason Kreis, the all-time leading goal scorer for the Dallas Burn from 1996-2004. This weekend, the former hero is back again as the top man at Real Salt Lake, who pay a visit FC Dallas in a budding rivalry between the two Western Conference powers (Sunday, 7 pm ET, MatchDay Live).
With Kreis at the helm for RSL and first-ever RSL head coach John Ellinger now an assistant with Dallas, and after last year’s thrilling Western Conference semifinal round that saw Dallas come out on top, some may call the two teams fierce rivals.
“I think it’s becoming that,” FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman said. “They may feel a little bit more of the pressure because Jason played here and did so well, had a great career here. John Ellinger used to coach there, so there’s a little bit of a sense of some type of activities going on besides the game.”
Ellinger echoed those sentiments on a grander scale.
“There’s a bit of a rivalry between us and pretty much everybody in the Western Conference because you know we are all fighting,” said Ellinger. “It’s a competitive conference. No animosity or anything, it’s just that [RSL] are a good team and we know that we have to play well to beat them.”
Last year in the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs, FC Dallas defeated Real Salt Lake in the conference semifinals, stunning the heavily favored Claret-and-Cobalt.
A strike from Eric Avila in the 88th minute in the first leg at Pizza Hut Park lifted FCD to a 2-1 win before Dax McCarty scored the dagger in a 1-1 tie at Rio Tinto, propelling FCD to the Western Conference Championship.
“We had a really good game,” said Hyndman. “I think Jason publicly said, ‘I made some mistakes, we should have stayed with what we do,’ and then we beat them here and tied them there to go on. So there are a lot of things there, but in their own right, [RSL] could be classified as the best team in the league, so it should be a very good game.”
FC Dallas forward Ruben Luna saw some playing time late in the first leg and remembers it well.
“That game was just unbelievable to go into,” recalled Luna. “They were going at it hardcore and so were we. We always go at it hard and they are always good games, so I think we are expecting a big show Sunday.”
The 19-year-old forward, who has seen his minutes increase since Milton Rodríguez suffered an injury, wasn’t afraid to add a little fuel to the fire: “We don’t really like each other.”
FC Dallas are unbeaten in five games (4-0-1) since David Ferreira’s ankle injury, while Real Salt Lake have only scored one goal in four games as they try to find their form without the injured Javier Morales.
But for Hyndman, the key for FCD to win the game is simple.
“I think what we try to do is focus on FC Dallas and whatever they do, they do," Hyndman said. "If they do things that are causing us problems, then we will try to adjust during the game.”