FC Dallas overcome early jitters in CCL to mount yet another key comeback

FRISCO, Tex. – For 10 minutes, FC Dallas looked like a team overmatched and overwhelmed.

But the tide shifted and the MLS club regained their poise – as they have done many times in the past – and managed to erase an early deficit and eventually leave Toyota Stadium with a 2-1 win over Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg on Wednesday.

“I thought it showed our great resiliency as a squad to come back the way we did, knowing it’s kind of a must-win game for us with the home leg and knowing how difficult it is to play there,” said defender Walker Zimmerman. “To come back and get the win, we’re definitely satisfied with the result.”

Coming from behind is nothing new for FC Dallas, especially in big games. Much of their 2016 US Open Cup run was spent coming from behind, including the semifinal and final, on their way to winning that competition. They also mounted a rally in the CCL group stage finale last fall to clinch their place in the knockout stage.

“We got too uptight in the game, and it took seven minutes to really adjust to the game and start feeling it. And after that the reaction was great,” said head coach Oscar Pareja, calling Pachuca one of the best teams in Mexico. “I saw a team for 80 minutes with a lot of arguments, a lot of ideas. Tactically, we just reshaped ourselves and believed in the game.”

Alongside goals from Maxi Urruti and Kellyn Acosta, with the latter being a thing of beauty from a free kick, arguably the bigger turnaround as the game went on was the team’s defensive composure.

Pachuca had their way with FC Dallas early, scoring in the third minute and routinely harassing the hosts’ defenders. Acosta called the opening goal a “wake-up call” for the team.

“We started the game off flat, misplayed some passes, they were clean from the start, and I think them scoring really got us into the game,” Acosta said. “I think the guys really buckled down.”

But the relentless Pachuca attack dissipated for the middle portions of the game, something Zimmerman said the visitors inflicted on themselves.

“I think they got a little complacent with their lead,” Zimmerman said. “I think they slowed their game down and tried to move it around the back. It allowed us to get our lines up, and when we won the ball, I think we found a little more space behind their midfield.”

And if not for goalkeeper Chris Seitz and a couple of crucial saves to stave off a late Pachuca effort to grab a second road goal, FC Dallas would be going to Mexico in three weeks with a much different feeling than they do after Wednesday’s gritty win.

“This is a great representation of Major League Soccer in the world,” Pareja said of his club’s performance. “In CONCACAF, people can see what Major League Soccer is doing.”