The dream season for FC Dallas kicks into second gear beginning this weekend, as the team heads into the final half of the schedule looking to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The Hoops blasted out of the starting gate, owning the top of the Western Conference from the start of the campaign, and despite losing the last three games in a row prior to the All-Star break, the team has still managed to remain in first place.
The bright spot, of course, is that it's all come mainly on the road. FC Dallas has played 13 games away from home -- they are an even .500 with five wins and five losses (and three draws). On the flip side, the home record is nearly perfect, with five wins and a draw in six games.
"The second half has a lot more home games than the first half and that will help us," said FCD skipper Colin Clarke.
All-Star midfielder Ronnie O'Brien analyzed the first part of the season and was satisfied with the results, but understands there are two parts to a successful season in MLS.
"Well, we know teams are going to play different against us and a couple of teams have played differently against us," said O'Brien. "We have done well to get where we are but unless we pick up our level and change our game a little bit we aren't going to stay there long.
"We have to rededicate ourselves, find ways to win. Play ugly games -- what we don't have to do is play perfect football, perfect passes. Now we have to find a way to win ugly."
The coach will have the luxury of a healthy squad to start the second half, as all players should be available and ready for action.
U.S. international and forward Eddie Johnson is expected to ready for action from this weekend's game against the MetroStars, the opening of Pizza Hut Park. How much is yet to be determined but he is expected to get a thumbs up from the trainers and coaching staff.
"We have to get back on track -- we have given up a couple of losses lately," said Clarke.
The Hoops started their slide three games ago, but the general consensus is that the losses came because of mental lapses from the team.
"We gave up three goals against RSL on set pieces. If it weren't for those three set pieces they wouldn't have even had a shot on goal," said O'Brien. "All in all we beat ourselves against RSL two weeks ago, we have to learn from it and pick ourselves up.
It's no secret that all teams gun for the teams at the top and FC Dallas are no exception to the rule, as eight of the final of 13 games will be played against conference foes.
"Teams that are trying to make the playoffs; if they get a point against Dallas they are one step closer to the playoffs. They will bunker in on us and we have to be able to deal with that," said O'Brien.
Ron Goode is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.