FRISCO, Texas -- Adversity? No problem.
FC Dallas have faced adversity seemingly all season long, from injuries to suspensions to winless streaks to red cards. Lots of red cards. A league-high nine red cards, in fact.
They got another one just before halftime on Friday night against Real Salt Lake. Forward Blas Perez received his second yellow card of the match for what referee Ismail Elfath later termed a "caution for unsporting behavior by embellishing contact."
But for the first time this season when playing down a man, Dallas pulled out a victory, topping RSL 2-1 to extend their unbeaten run to 10 games and pull even with RSL, Sporting Kansas City, and the Seattle Sounders for the league lead in points.
“A lot of times when you go down a man, that mentality to win, that will to win goes away and you bunker for a tie,” defender Zach Loyd admitted after the match. “But we came out in the second half, still aggressive with 10 guys. It showed the character of the team this year. It shows the resilience of this team. No matter who is playing, who is filling in, everyone is stepping up.”
The red card coming just before halftime left the Dallas players reeling as they filed into the locker room for the break. They had created more chances than RSL, and the constant back-and-forth throughout the first half between Perez and the RSL backline -- which eventually culminated in the red card -- had already heightened the tension.
“At that point we were very emotional with incidents,” head coach Oscar Pareja said. “We had to get them to understand what was going to be the plan for the second half. It was a very emotional 15 minutes.”
Dallas have lived and died using a fast-paced counterattack style all season. With the likes of Fabian Castillo -- who eventually got the matchwinner in the 74th minute -- and rookie sensation Tesho Akindele in his side, Pareja saw no need to make any tactical changes heading into the second 45 minute.
“It’s not easy, but the plan is still the same,” Pareja said. “Playing with one man down is hard, the field becomes bigger. Sometimes you have to pick your battles. We know what we are good at.”
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The goals, not coincidentally, came as the result of those aforementioned quick counterattacks. Je-Vaughn Watson bundled home a corner kick originally set up after a fast transition and cross from Akindele. And Castillo's winning goal resulted when the pacey attacker picked up an Akindele knockdown at midfield, sliced away from defender Nat Borchers, and beat Nick Rimando at the far post.
It was a just reward for a big effort from Castillo and others who overcame the difficult circumstances to nab the three points.
“The heart of the fans and the people who were in the building -- it was laid on the field, and [the players] took it and performed that way," Pareja said. "Tonight we’re happy. We’re enjoying these points against a good rival with a lot of adversity.”