Heading into Saturday night's first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal Series between FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids, the biggest question was who FCD head coach Colin Clarke would go with in goal.
Would it be Dario Sala, who had started 28 games before being injured in a 3-2 loss at Real Salt Lake on Sept. 23 and missing the last four games of the regular season? Or would Clarke go with Shaka Hislop, a big-game veteran of the English Premier League and this past summer's World Cup?
Clarke tabbed Sala as the starter in the hours leading up to kickoff in Denver. Making his playoff debut, the Argentinian 'keeper was spectacular, making six saves in the 2-1 triumph by the Hoops.
"Dario did very well. He made some big saves and kept us in it. He had a good game. He was sharp," Clarke said. "It wasn't surprising. He had worked during the week and looked good. Our only concern was the calf being 100 percent and that he didn't hurt it or pull it. That would have been it for his season right there."
The FCD coach's decision came down to one simple reason. "Dario has had a good year," Clarke said. "He's played 28 games, has been there as our starting 'keeper and deserves the chance to see the year through."
Sala was clearly overjoyed to make his postseason debut and also with his performance in the Mile High City on Saturday.
"I can tell you that it was pretty stressful for me last week trying to push myself to be 150 percent for the game," he admitted after training on Monday. "The decision by Colin was pretty stressful for both of us (Sala and Hislop). I was expecting to play.
"(Assistant coach) Steve (Morrow) and Colin asked me if I was taking any kind of risk by playing," he added. "I told them that if I felt like I would fail on the field that I wouldn't go in and waste one of our substitutions. I wanted to bring the best for the team. It was a big game and everyone had high expectations. We covered that pretty well by winning the game."
FCD right back Bobby Rhine heaped similar praise on the 'keeper as well.
"I thought he looked really sharp," Rhine said. "He made a couple of big saves. Even on the goal, he made a great save on the first shot. I though he had a good game back there."
One thing that wasn't there was any rust since Sala's last game action was nearly a month ago. "He's played most of the season and we know how he likes to play in goal," Rhine said. "There is a certain amount of understanding with him. We certainly have a level of communication with him in the back."
Prior to his injury, Sala had started all 28 games in goal for the Hoops during the regular season. He had a 14-10-5 record with a 1.24 goals against average to accompany five clean sheets. After suffering the strained right calf at Rice-Eccles Stadium, it opened the door for Hislop to make his MLS debut as he started the final four games of the league campaign.
After such a stellar performance in his MLS playoff debut, Sala will likely again be between the posts for the second leg against the Rapids on Saturday night at Pizza Hut Park (7:30 p.m. CT).
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.