FRISCO, Texas – Moments before FC Dallas took the field for pregame introductions, they were huddled in the locker room watching the New York Red Bulls struggle against Sebastian Giovinco and Toronto FC.
Once they saw the Supporters’ Shield leaders fail to collect any points, Dallas knew what was immediately at stake: a chance to share the lead for a trophy the franchise has never hoisted.
“I think it gave us a little extra boost knowing that if we come in here and get three points, we’re tied at the top of the table with them with two games to go,” defender Zach Loyd said.
It took some time, but Dallas definitely showed that extra boost in a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps at Toyota Stadium on Wednesday night. FC Dallas jumped out to a 1-0 lead thanks to the aggressive play of Mauro Diaz, who is returning to form again after missing six games with an injury and helped set up Michael Barrios' 32nd-minute winner.
They nearly doubled that advantage late in the first half when an aggressive Barrios counter earned a penalty kick, but Diaz wasn’t able to beat David Ousted from the spot.
Still, Dallas created countless opportunities, putting up 14 shots, six of them on goal and several others inches away from blowing the game more wide open than the scoreboard indicated.
Knowing how much closer they could get to obtaining their first-ever Supporters’ Shield before entering the match was enough to light the spark.
“It’s huge,” defender Ryan Hollingshead told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s something I don’t think this club has ever done. It’s something we want to push for, for sure. Being two games away at this point, this is the time of the season where you’re like, ‘This is it. This is crunch time.’”
Loyd especially came out with the extra boost he mentioned, making clearance after clearance to preserve the club’s second straight clean sheet and youngster Jesse Gonzalez’s fourth since taking over the starting goalkeeper job in late August. Loyd singlehandedly prevented a major momentum swing before the break, as Vancouver went inches away from putting the ball behind Gonzalez in first-half stoppage time.
Had Loyd not crept into the scene at the last second, the tide may have turned in the Whitecaps' favor.
“He was huge tonight,” fellow centerback Matt Hedges said. “There’s not enough words to describe how he played.”
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Loyd said head coach Oscar Pareja preached the importance of winning this home matchup of a back-to-back set vs. the Whitecaps that included last week's scoreless stalemate in Vancouver – especially given how close the teams are in the Western Conference standings.
“If you go there and get a tie and come home and lose, it doesn’t really mean anything,” Loyd said. “But to come out and get a big three points like that and fight for a trophy here, that’s something we haven’t done here in a very, very long time. We put ourselves in the best possible situation we could be in, and hopefully we capitalize on that in the next two weeks.”
So FCD share the driver’s seat with the Red Bulls for the Shield lead, but the Texans know it's still an uphill battle. The two teams hold identical 16-10-6 records, and if they finish the season in such a deadlock, New York currently hold the advantage in the second tiebreaker, goal differential, by four goals, meaning Dallas will have to play lights out or hope for a slip-up along the way from RBNY.
But knowing they are the “1 B” to New York’s “1 A” in terms of tiebreakers isn’t dampening their confidence.
“We think with the two matchups we have left we can [win it],” Hollingshead said. “We’ve got San Jose at home, and we always feel good at home. And Salt Lake on the road, we feel like we can steal three points there.”