This was supposed to be a breakthrough year for FC Dallas goalkeeper Dario Sala. The veteran Argentinean had gotten a multiple-year contract extension last fall and during preseason had clearly distanced himself as FCD's No. 1 goalkeeper.
But after starting the season opener with Chicago on March 21, Sala's injury problems began. He had surgery on his left knee after the loss to the Fire and missed four games before returning on April 25 at Chivas USA. In that match, Sala played part of the first half before being sent off for handling a ball outside the box. It would prove to be his final appearance in goal over three months.
That's because an MRI revealed Sala had a torn meniscus in that same knee and would need surgery immediately. He sat on the sidelines until an August 1 match with Kansas City, one that FCD won 6-0. Sala returned to goal last Thursday against Houston and again helped his club keep a clean sheet in a 1-0 win.
Having the 34-year-old back in goal has brought a smile to the face of FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman.
"Dario has been back two games and he hasn't had to do a lot," he said. "We won 6-0 and we won 1-0. In the 1-0 game, there was probably one great save he made in a shot taken from the midfield. Even though we won that game 6-0, there were still scoring opportunities and he came through.
"What he brings that's probably not as easily seen is his stability. There is a lot more calmness and a constant, constructive dialogue. I think the players feel his organizational ability. His leadership back there has been a huge difference-maker."
Sala has only been called upon to make two saves since his return. The toughest stop he had to make was on a second half blast by the Wizards' Davy Arnaud on August 1. However, he isn't about to say his first two games back have been easy.
"It looks easy but it's not," the veteran 'keeper said. "If you are a goalkeeper who receives nine shots and makes nine saves, does that mean you work a lot or if you didn't? For me, it means that you didn't and didn't do your homework. I have worked hard preparing before the game. My coaches and teammates know how much work and preparation I put into every game."
Since returning to goal, Sala has definitely noticed a much different vibe with his teammates than was present earlier in the year when the club was struggling mightily.
"The boys are changing the attitude," he said. "They want to work. We are trying to experience this special moment."
While third-year 'keeper Ray Burse filled in nicely during Sala's absence, FCD has already benefited from the tutelage of the more vocal veteran.
"I'm vocal and like to communicate," Sala said. "I try to bring that energy to the team, especially the defense and (holding midfielder) Dax (McCarty). They have to be the heart of the team and communicate with the defensive and offensive lines. I think for the goalkeeper, talking with the fullback and making sure he covers the center back when they go wide is the most important thing. Normally the defense is looking at the ball but as a goalkeeper, you are watching all their runners and what they are looking to do while the defender has the ball. It's good to communicate what they do before they do it."
On Saturday, FCD will face Columbus at Crew Stadium and looks to be a little thin at center back where reserves Daniel Torres and Steve Purdy are likely to start with the back line hit by a wave of injuries and captain Pablo Ricchetti being suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
However, Sala isn't worried one bit.
"It's not a problem," he said. "We're going to miss Pablo. The team is more important than the individual. We have the players to do his job. It's the same for any position on this team. We have a collective group of talented players and can do it."
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com.