FRISCO, Texas — Jair Benítez had been practicing free kicks over and over again during training. On Tuesday night, he finally delivered one in a game situation as his curling ball helped FC Dallas advance past Real Salt Lake 2-0 in the US Open Cup quarterfinals.
“Before traveling to Salt Lake [last Friday], I did two of the same goals [in practice],” Benítez told reporters after the win. “The spot was a good location for me and I had the opportunity to score. Luckily I did it tonight.”
Friday, per usual for FC Dallas the day before a game, head coach Schellas Hyndman had his players take free kicks in various locations outside the 18-yard box.
Surprisingly to onlookers and players alike, Benítez stepped up and curled a free kick into the goal on back-to-back occasions, prompting assistant coach John Ellinger to yell "Stop!" in hopes that he could save those shots for a game situation.
And save them he did. In the 18th minute Tuesday night, midfielder Ricardo Villar — who had scored on a free kick in FC Dallas’ previous Open Cup game against Orlando City — lined up directly behind the ball 25-yards out, while Benítez sat angled to the side ready for an opportunity to bend a shot over the RSL wall.
“I had tried one earlier but I didn’t have the same feel or confidence to take it,” said Villar. “For the distance and the way [Benítez] takes it, it was perfect so we just said, ‘I’ll go over the ball to see where the goalkeeper’s going,’ and then he can step up and take it.”
The execution was flawless by Benítez, and FC Dallas never looked back en route to their first semifinal berth since 2007 in the tournament named after their founding owner, Lamar Hunt.
The goal marked Benítez’s first in an FC Dallas uniform and he joked with the media afterwards that he had scored many similar free kicks in his native Colombia.
“What a great free kick,” said Hyndman. “It was a great shot.”
FC Dallas tallied one more in the second half. Jackson Gonçalves entered the game at the start of the second half, replacing Marvin Chávez at forward for the first time in 2011, and continued his torrid scoring streak. He took an Eric Alexander through ball and floated an 18-yard shot over the poorly positioned Kyle Reynish.
The goal marked Jackson’s second of the Open Cup tournament and fifth in his last six games across all competitions.
“I asked him, ‘Is there a position you cannot play?’” Hyndman stated. “And he said, ‘I’d rather not play goalkeeper.’”
FC Dallas now await the winner of the LA Galaxy-Seattle Sounders match on Wednesday evening.
Robert Casner covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @FCDallasBeatGuy