PIZZA HUT PARK
7:30 pm CT (no TV)
Having taken care of one of their games-in-hand with a dramatic victory, FC Dallas now have a chance to make second place in the Western Conference their own, with a victory against the Colorado Rapids - who have designs of their own on moving up in the MLS Cup Playoffs picture. FC Dallas lead the third-place Los Angeles Galaxy by one point and the fourth-place Rapids by five - Colorado could still sneak into the second spot in the division if they win out (beginning with Saturday's showdown) and FCD and the Galaxy lose their final remaining games.
REFEREE: Ricardo Valenzuela. SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Bill Dittmar; 4th: Adam Garner
MLS Career: 67 games; FC/gm: 34.3; Y/gm: 4.6; R: 28; pens: 22
Games involving FC Dallas: P16 W9 L5 T2; FC/gm: 33.4; Y/gm: 4.9; R: 12; pens: 6
Games involving Rapids: P11 W6 L5 T0; FC/gm: 32.5; Y/gm: 5.3; R: 10; pens: 6
INJURY REPORT: FC DALLAS - OUT: GK Jeff Cassar (R shoulder separation); FW Eddie Johnson (R toe stress-related injury); MF Richard Mulrooney (R knee surgery) ... COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: MF Matt Crawford (R hip strain); QUESTIONABLE: GK Joe Cannon (L abdominal strain)
SUSPENDED: DAL: Ronnie O'Brien (21 CP; through Oct. 8) ... COL: Mike Petke (11 CP in 3 gms; through Oct. 8)
WARNINGS: DAL: Bobby Rhine (20 CP); Chris Gbandi (10 add'l CP); Simo Valakari (10 add'l CP) ... COL: Kyle Beckerman (19 CP), Eric Denton (16 CP)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: DAL: Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala; v Mexico, Oct. 8); Roberto Mina (Ecuador; v Uruguay, Oct. 8) ... COL: Pablo Mastroeni (USA; vs. Costa Rica, Oct. 8)
HEAD-TO-HEAD The Western Conference rivals face off for the fourth and final league meeting set between the clubs this season, the second of two home games for FCD, but the first between the teams at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco.
ALL-TIME (35 meetings): FC Dallas 17 wins (2 shootout), 61 goals ... Rapids 14 wins (1 shootout), 48 goals ... 4 draws
IN DALLAS (17 meetings): FC Dallas 12 wins (2 shootout), 34 goals ... Rapids 4 wins (1 shootout), 18 goals ... 1 draw
THIS SEASON The teams played to a draw in their first meeting on the campaign, then FC Dallas won the next two, once in each city.
FC Dallas remained undefeated on the season while the Rapids claimed their first point on the season when they played to a scoreless draw April 9 in Denver.
While FC Dallas remained unbeaten, the Rapids continued their good form at home. But the game almost took an abrupt change in the first minute when Carlos Ruiz's corner found Eddie Johnson, but his header was denied by the crossbar.
The Colorado Rapids saw a halftime lead wasted as FC Dallas scored a pair of second-half goals to claim a 2-1 come-from-behind victory at the Cotton Bowl on May 18.
The Rapids jumped out to an early lead when Jean-Philippe Peguero powered through the heart of the box to meet a Chris Henderson and head Colorado into the lead (12).
But just after Ramon Nuñez came on for Oscar Pareja - given the starting job in central midfield with the season-ending injury to Richard Mulrooney - FC Dallas struck back. Nuñez hooked in a fine cross that found O'Brien, and he sent a sneaky left-footed shot from the top of the area just after the hour.
Then Carlos Ruiz finished off the comeback in the 77th minute, Clarence Goodson corralling a loose ball and finding the Guatemalan international unmarked at the back post for an easy tap-in.
LAST MEETING FC Dallas extended their lead atop the West with a 3-1 victory in June 25 in Denver, thanks to a pair of late goals that snapped a two-game winning streak for Colorado.
Hard work gave FC Dallas a lead on 13 minutes, rookie Aaron Pitchkolan scoring his second goal of the season as he harried a Rapids defender dealing with a bouncing ball and popped the ball over on-rushing Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon from just inside the area (13).
But the Rapids pulled level on the half-hour, Luchi Gonzalez racing in to provide the final touch after a Jeff Cunningham shot off a fine tic-tac-toe sequence hit the insides of both posts before settling right on the line.
Yet FCD claimed the full three points with a late double. First a Ronnie O'Brien cross from the left picked out Bobby Rhine all alone at the back post, and he made no mistake finishing off from close range (85), then rookie Abe Thompson collected a deflected clearance and raced into the box alone before coolly shooting past Cannon for his third goal and second in as many games (88).
Here's Clavijo's team (4-4-2): Joe Cannon - Ricky Lewis, Nat Borchers, Mike Petke, Eric Denton (Wolde Harris 86) - Alain Nkong, Kyle Beckerman, Pablo Mastroeni (Leo Cullen 69), Luchi Gonzalez - Jean Philippe Peguero, Jeff Cunningham
Here's Clarke's team (4-1-4-1): Scott Garlick - Drew Moor, Clarence Goodson, Greg Vanney, Chris Gbandi - Simo Valakari - Bobby Rhine (David Wagenfuhr 85), Aaron Pitchkolan, Ronnie O'Brien, Arturo Alvarez (Oscar Pareja 76) - Roberto Mina (Abe Thompson 80).
HISTORY The teams split the season series a year ago. They played to 1-1 draws at each ground in the first two meetings, before each team won at home.
The clubs played to a draw in the season opener for both teams on April 3 at the Cotton Bowl (Rhine 75 pen - Spencer 36), then it was another draw at Invesco Field on June 19 (Henderson 51 - Kreis 49).
A late penalty gave the then-Burn a dramatic 1-0 victory in Dallas on Aug. 7 (Johnson 90 pen), but the Rapids rebounded to claim a 2-1 victory in the Mile High City on Sept. 4 (Spencer 52, Borchers 85 - Behncke 43)
It was the second consecutive season and third in the last four where the teams had split honors in the season series. The Burn won the 2002 series with two victories to Colorado's one (and one draw).
Coaches record: Colin Clarke vs. COL: P8 W4 L1 D3 ... Fernando Clavijo v DAL: P8 W2 L4 T2
FC DALLAS FC Dallas left it late, but claimed a remarkable victory that leapfrogged them into second place in the West, taking advantage of the first of their two games-in-hand over the Galaxy, and officially eliminated the Crew from the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Crew took the lead in the 17th minute when Chris Henderson sent in a nice cross from the left flank toward Edson Buddle, who was tightly marked by Jolley. The ball bounced off their heading duel to David Testo at the back post, and he brought the ball down before calmly potting his shot past Scott Garlick for his first goal of the campaign.
But FC Dallas pulled level in the 57th minute when Bobby Rhine got on the end of an errant Robin Fraser clearance which he took out of the air with an audacious volley that had the arc of a curveball to easily beat the Crew's Jonny Walker.
Then in stoppage time, Buddle hit the post for the second time on the night, and FC Dallas raced to the other end. After the ball took a fortunate deflection off a Crew defender, Ramon Nuñez raced forward and let loose a bomb from all of 25 yards that swerved past Walker for the stunning game-winner.
FC Dallas boss Colin Clarke made five changes to the team that lost 2-1 to the Los Angeles Galaxy at the weekend in Carson. With Clarence Goodson and Greg Vanney suspended, Drew Moor and Chris Gbandi came into the back four. Ronnie O'Brien also returned from injury as David Wagenfuhr returned to the substitutes' bench. Simo Valakari returned from suspension, coming in for Oscar Pareja in midfield, and with Roberto Mina away on international duty, Abe Thompson came in as the target striker.
Here's Clarke's team (4-1-4-1): Scott Garlick - Bobby Rhine, Steve Jolley, Drew Moor, Chris Gbandi - Simo Valakari - Ronnie O'Brien (Carey Talley 89), Mark Wilson (Arturo Alvarez 85), Aaron Pitchkolan (Oscar Pareja 80), Ramon Nunez - Abe Thompson
"It's important for us our last three games at home to continue the positive run that we've had. We had a couple of bad results last week, but here for the last four or five games we have been very good and very solid, and we need to keep that going into the playoffs," Clarke said. "This is our home field and nobody is going to come in here and get anything easily. I thought that this was a very important game for us and Saturday's against Colorado will be just as important."
FC Dallas returned home after a week on the road in California, but still managed to extend their winning streak at Pizza Hut Park to three games thanks to a stunning 2-1 victory against the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night. With the victory, the Hoops are now in second place in the Western Conference with 46 points from 30 matches, one ahead of the Los Angeles Galaxy and still with a match in hand.
TEAM NEWS FC Dallas managed to grab the full three points, in the first of the two games in hand, necessary if they want to clinch home-field advantage in the Western Conference Semifinals. A victory against the Rapids on Saturday and they will be assured of finishing in second in the division.
"We really need to go out and beat Colorado on Saturday. They're still right at our heels, so it's important to get the win in that respect, but it also important to keep winning and keep the confidence high, especially at home going into the playoffs," Clarke said. "I thought that we thoroughly deserved the game and I would have been disappointed if we didn't come out with a win."
The Hoops also had their share of chances over the match, but until Rhine's bomb on the full volley, the final pass just failed to connect and many opportunities went begging.
"You just hope that you're not going to be punished for it. It happens in games where you control, and control and then one lapse in concentration costs you the game," Ronnie O'Brien said. "Luckily for us tonight that wasn't the case. We had a bit of luck on our side, they hit the post, Scott made some nice saves to keep us in it and then we went on to win, so it was great."
Nuñez has scored four goals over the last eight games, and added an assist, as the Hoops continue to miss Carlos Ruiz and Eddie Johnson in attack (the pair have combined for just five appearances - three starts - over that period).
"The kid's playing great," Clarke said to The Star-Telegram. "He's full of confidence and he's always had the ability to do what he did tonight. He hits shots that move and dip. That's a great goal and I don't think you're going to see a better one around for a while."
"Never as a professional (have I been on a run like this.) Last year I couldn't seem to get it going, but this year, with the chances that I've been given, I think that I've earned a spot in the lineup and I can only think that it's because of my hard work in practice, my parents positively pushing me and my coaches for giving me the chance to play, and I've just tried to respond by scoring goals, getting assists and helping the team win," Nuñez said.
Richard Mulrooney told the Dallas Morning News he is perhaps two weeks from a "go, no-go" decision for returning to action this season. Mulrooney underwent knee surgery after suffering the injury in the May 14 game at San Jose.
COLORADO RAPIDS The Rapids failed to take advantage of their games-in-hand in their bid to catch the Galaxy, as Chivas USA concluded their road campaign with a second positive result in a row.
The teams hit for goals three minutes apart. In the 33rd minute Alain Nkong fed Dedi Ben-Dayan who took the ball deep into the box on the left before firing a shot from a tight angle that went over 'keeper Sergio Garcia and into the far side netting. It was the Israeli international's fourth tally, all in the last four games.
Chivas quickly tied the game off a quick counterattack. Matt Taylor's hard cross from the left side of the Colorado area caromed off of Nat Borchers' thigh and wrong-footed 'keeper Byron Foss, whose dive was too late to prevent the own goal as it looped over him.
Rapids head coach Fernando Clavijo made one change to the team that defeated Real Salt Lake 2-1 on Saturday night in Denver. With Pablo Mastroeni on national team duty, Mike Petke returned to the team in central defense.
Here's Clavijo's team (3-4-1-2): Byron Foss - Dan Gargan (Jeff Cunningham 46), Nat Borchers, Mike Petke,- Terry Cooke (Ritchie Kotschau 60), Kyle Beckerman, Dedi Ben-Dayan, Eric Denton - Alain Nkong - Jovan Kirovski, Jean-Philippe Peguero (Fabrice Noel 81)
"I said all along that Chivas is a very difficult team to play with," said Clavijo. "They have nothing to lose and at the same time you have to make sure you prepare yourself well enough to come out and play regardless of your opponent. We didn't come out with that intensity today."
The Colorado Rapids saw their winning streak stopped at three games and lost a chance to pick up ground in the Western Conference, settling for a 1-1 draw with Chivas USA on Wednesday night in Denver. The Rapids are still in fourth place in the division with 41 points from 30 matches, now just four points behind third-place Los Angeles Galaxy, though Wednesday's game was the first of two matches in hand they have on the Galaxy.
TEAM NEWS Clavijo was particularly concerned with his team's urgency, especially still with a chance to move up in the Western Conference table.
"We didn't come out with that intensity today. A look at some of the other games - I mean, the attitude was different. Today was not. And it was very good to happen right now. We have to look at a chance to get some of the other guys in again. And two more games and we have to prepare ourselves for the playoffs," Clavijo said. "But today is one of those games that you don't want to look too much into it. And it's good that nobody got hurt - put it that way."
Clavijo once again started his team with a back three, but changed things at the half when Jeff Cunningham came on for Dan Gargan.
"I wanted to get a little more defensive shape. [Eric] Denton, he's been playing midfield most of the time. We're trying to see how de does in a fullback system with the left back. Denton is in trouble today a little bit and we decided that we're going to see that they did a little bit more defensive and we decided to go with three in the back," Clavijo said.
One of the bright spots for Colorado was the continued stellar play of newcomer Dedi Ben-Dayan, who scored his fourth goal in as many matches for his new team. "Goals are nice," said Ben-Dayan. "But the main point is that Colorado succeeds in the playoffs."
First-choice goalkeeper Joe Cannon, who missed a third consecutive game because of a lingering abdominal injury, indicated that he would begin full training again on Thursday.
"We're hoping I'll be back in one of the next two games," said Cannon. "To be honest I haven't really done anything 100 percent yet except for diving around a little bit today. But I've been given the green light to try everything including kicking the ball, which in the past has been a bit of a problem in recovery."
In the final analysis, the Rapids know that they must improve their play if they hope to go far in the playoffs.
"We're trying to establish what's best for the team and which lineup is going to perform," said Clavijo. "Today's lineup, it was not there, so we have to keep trying in the last two games to find out what will work for the playoffs."