NEW YORK – What Oscar Pareja saw when he opened the door of the visitors locker room at Yankee Stadium following a 2-2 draw with New York City FC Saturday night made a stark contrast to the jubilant celebrations at Toyota Stadium on Tuesday night.
And that’s a good thing.
“The mentality for this group has been growing tremendously,” Pareja said. “When I walked inside of the locker room, I saw people upset because they wanted three points after such a great achievement they had during the week. In the middle of the week they had to compete for a final.”
Pareja knew there were questions about how his club would respond to ending a 19-year title drought with Tuesday's US Open Cup triumph. But his concerns were assuaged even before the team stepped onto the field at Yankee Stadium and played a thrilling match with an NYCFC squad battling to win the Eastern Conference.
“We had two training [sessions] before the game and a long travel too, but I saw it in the two sessions,” he said. “They were focused and with the right mentality to come and fight for the points here against a tough rival, knowing that we needed the points.”
FCD bounced back after conceding early to take a 2-1 lead before seeing Khiry Shelton come off the substitute’s bench to score the equalizer in the 78th minute. Pareja pleaded with his team to play for the draw, but they continued to attack and nearly had a late winner.
“It was, for me, difficult for me to stop my players, I have to be honest with you,” he said. “I was asking them just to close the game seven minutes before the end and they wanted more.”
FC Dallas wanted more from the game, and more from the season, which made this challenge a positive one.
“I think we have our eyes set on a couple more trophies,” said defender Ryan Hollingshead. “At this stage a good game is huge for us. We had the lead at 2-1 so we thought we could just hold down and get three points. We also had a chance to win it at the end. Obviously a little disappointing, but also quick turnaround.”
Pareja said he wouldn’t mind seeing NYCFC again – on December 10th in the MLS Cup final.
“It was a great night for Major League Soccer,” Pareja said. “I thought we saw two very good teams playing and giving all they have and creating a lot of entertainment for the people with a lot of intensity, desire and passion. I think it’s one step forward for the image we can give to the world.”