FRISCO, Texas – With every remaining game in the MLS season taking on more importance than the previous as the playoffs draw nearer, anything happening off the field can be detrimental to the team’s focus.
Last Saturday’s 2-0 fumbling to the New England Revolution saw a less than full-strength FC Dallas side affected by the tragic death of team legend Bobby Rhine, and Saturday night against the New York Red Bulls (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), they will honor the former player.
FCD will wear black armbands in Rhine’s memory and fullback Zach Loyd also changed his jersey number from Rhine’s 19 to 12, which he will wear for the remainder of the season.
“I approached the coaching staff and told them that I thought out of respect and honoring Bobby Rhine that I was willing to give up the number 19,” said Loyd after Friday’s run-through session on the Pizza Hut Park field. “And they sat down and talked with the staff about it and they came to the decision that it’s something they’d like to do.”
Dallas native and team veteran Ugo Ihemelu remembers watching Rhine with the Dallas Burn and FC Dallas during his high school and college days and admits that Saturday’s game will be emotional.
“When I heard about it, it came as a complete shock,” Ihemelu recalled. “But when things like that happen, you have to focus on the game, especially when you get into the game and take care of that.”
Added Loyd: “There’s been a lot of adversity here and I think the team has dealt with a lot of adversity over the course of my career here so far. I think leading up the game, it’s really important that you find your own focus and kind of as a team we always look to each other.”
Head coach Schellas Hyndman cited a lack of leadership in the team’s loss to the Revolution and Loyd mentioned a team meeting Friday morning where Hyndman told the players to work together to find success.
“It’s going to be really important that we feed off each other tomorrow night and hopefully come out and get three points,” added Loyd. “It’s really important right now with the playoff race coming.”
Players remember Jose Perez
With the team already dealing with the loss of Rhine, Tuesday’s news of the tragic passing of former FC Dallas Academy player Jose Perez hit close to home.
“He was such a big part of FC Dallas and my life,” said Jonathan Top, who spent much of his youth career with Perez. “We had a lot of good memories together out on this field when we played Barcelona. It’s just hard to take in.”
Top met Perez – who had just begun his freshman year at San Jacinto College and was killed in a car accident driving to training – when they were nine years old and remembers not liking his former Academy teammate at first - not because of any personality conflict, but because Perez was so tough to play against in the midfield.
Midfielder Bryan Leyva met Perez when they were 14 and recalled the first time they met.
“He played for the Gators and I used to guest-play with that team,” remembered Leyva. “What a nice guy. He was a great person and a great soccer player and I have no doubt that he could have gone very far, and that makes me very sad.”
Robert Casner covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached on Twitter: @robertmcasner