FRISCO, Texas — In 2008, FC Dallas struggled through league competition sitting at or near the bottom of the league standings and lacked cohesion on the pitch.
Midway through the season, the club brought on longtime SMU coach Schellas Hyndman to help the club find success. During his first year-and-a-half at the reigns, FC Dallas failed to qualify for the playoffs and advance in the domestic US Open Cup.
Fast-forward to 2011 and FC Dallas has earned their first berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, the most prestigious club tournament in the region, with a 2-0 aggregate goals win over Salvadoran side Alianza FC Wednesday night.
“It wasn’t an easy road in the beginning and I think now we are all proud of what this team has accomplished,” Hyndman said in his postgame press conference. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment for our team. They have worked hard in the last year to qualify for this great event.”
In front of a split crowd of Salvadoran and Dallas fans at Pizza Hut Park, the home side took the lead through a first-half header from center back Ugo Ihemelu and kept a tight defense to hold off the 2011 Clausura champions from San Salvador.
During the games final 30 minutes, FCD used organization and communication to hold off a pesky Alianza.
The match featured four yellow cards, 37 fouls, and an ankle injury to FC Dallas’ Jackson to which Hyndman said, “everything seems to be fine.”
Defensively it was the same story as it has been in 2011 with center backs George John and Ihemelu working well with captain Daniel Hernandez and the players around them.
“Early in the season we worked on our communication and keeping our shape,” said the goal-scoring center back. “Towards the end they just started throwing numbers forward and when that happens you have to keep your shape and communicate because you’re basically outnumbered at times.”
Offensively, the team struggled with the final touch. Cross after cross was driven into the box but nobody was on the other end to put the ball home.
Finally, after creating numerous opportunities in Alianza’s defensive third of the field, Ihemelu came forward on a Ricardo Villar corner kick and showed the FC Dallas attacking unit how it’s done.
“It was basically a set piece that we run,” said Ihemelu. “Ricardo – he’s great on set pieces and usually he looks for George (John) and I. He just happened to put a good ball in and I saw I had a chance for it and just went up to challenge for it.”
Now the real work starts.
Dallas join Group C and their first opponent comes against perhaps the best team in the competition: Pumas UNAM of the Mexican Primera Division.
“I think going down and playing Pumas in Mexico, I think it’s fantastic,” stated Hyndman. “We want to play against some of the best teams in CONCACAF because I think what it does is it gives us a measuring stick and also I think it represents MLS.”
Robert Casner covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @FCDallasBeatGuy