While FC Dallas gave up a late lead before settling for a 2-2 draw with the Kansas City Wizards on Saturday night at Pizza Hut Park, the Hoops still felt like the match sent them into the MLS Cup Playoffs on a good note.
After a tight first half, Oscar Pareja and Ramon Nuñez struck in the 69th and 75th minutes only to have Kansas City answer back with two goals in the last 15 minutes. Davy Arnaud scored the first in the 77th, followed by Preki, who tied it in the 90th.
"The first half was two teams not making any mistakes," said FCD head coach Colin Clarke. "Two solid performances -- the second half they obviously started to throw a few things forward and come at us a little bit more, which opened it up and made for an exciting, thrilling finish."
The celebration following the two quick goals for Dallas caused a lull in their defending, allowing the Wizards to claw back and secure the tie.
"I thought we did well again for 80 minutes," said Ronnie O'Brien. "Gave up some silly goals - (we) probably should have committed a foul on the first one and give up a free kick instead of letting him run.
"And on the second one again, just errors ---it's not too bad, you know. We worked hard again tonight, scored two goals, and with a bit of concentration we controlled the game easily. But we cemented second place, which is what we wanted to do, so we're into the playoffs like that."
Prior to the match FC Dallas presented Pareja with a framed jersey to commemorate his eight years of outstanding play for the organization. Fittingly, Pareja scored the game's opening goal in the 69th minute that made the Pizza Hut Park crowd -- the largest of the season -- go wild and even got Clarke off the bench in celebration.
"I couldn't believe it," said Clarke. "It's one of those special moments here at Pizza Hut Park for me -- great ball, great finish, it was very special."
With a playoff spot wrapped up, Saturday's match was more about recognizing the great career of Pareja, which was capped off with his goal, his first of the season.
"All my teammates, coaches, my family and everybody here in Dallas made me feel very special today," said Pareja. "And I think that scoring that goal was the best way to give back for all the effort and all the love the people here have given me."
This season Pareja has taken on a new role as more of player/coach, since his minutes needed to be pulled back to preserve him physically for the playoff run.
"That was one of my goals, and it will be here or wherever I go" said Pareja. "Just trying to transmit a little bit of passion, a little bit of energy -- I think here we have a great group of young guys, and they're taking that information not just by me but the other veteran players."
Following Pareja's goal the entire team went to celebrate with him, one player in particular: his friend Simo Valakari, who hoisted him up and carried him for several yards.
"He's an amazing player, an amazing person," said Valakari. "He totally deserved it. That's what happens with good people when you look after yourself, you are a good professional and at the end of the day you get your praise."
If there was a down note on the night, it was the failure of Carlos Ruiz to return from Guatemala in time for the match.
"He didn't get back, we're disappointed and saddened by that," Clarke said. "We'll take action when he does get back. ... There's some issues there that we've got to deal with and take care of."
Scott Joiner is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.