In the last 10 games of 2005, FC Dallas midfielder Ramon Núñez scored the first five goals of his MLS career and showed signs of fulfilling the vast potential that led the Hoops to select him sixth overall in the 2004 Super Draft.
With such a strong finish to 2005, many expected Núñez to carry that momentum into this season. Unfortunately, a strained right quadricep muscle slowed him a bit in the preseason, but Hoops head coach Colin Clarke still gave him the starting nod for the season opener against Chicago at Pizza Hut Park.
Since then, he has played in all five of the Hoops' games so far this season; he made his second start of 2006 last weekend against D.C. United.
Núñez's solid performance in a 1-1 tie showed that any lingering effects from his preseason injury are in the past and also that he looks to be finding his groove and possibly returning to the top form he showed late last year.
"He's had a tough preseason with injury," Clarke said. "He was missing some games with fitness. We've eased him back in.
"I was happy that he was able to go 90 minutes [against United]," he said. "The game had a good pace and was a lively game. I thought he did well. I thought he was one of our most consistent players at the end of last year. It was nice to get him back on the field 100 percent fit. It gives us some good options."
Núñez himself offered a similar evaluation of his play last Saturday.
"I finally felt 100 percent healthy and 100 percent fit," he said. "I was able to run all over the field and try to get the ball as much as I can. We definitely got a good point on the road."
He nearly found the back of the net for the first time this season in the 27th minute when Ronnie O'Brien hit him with a perfect cross on the left side of the pitch. Núñez executed a perfect chest trap, brought the ball down and hit a rocket toward the D.C. goal.
His effort went wide, hitting the left side of the net, but the strike served notice that the cannon of a leg he showed last season is still in proper working order.
Even though he was not credited with an assist on the score sheet, Núñez figured into the Hoops' only goal of the evening, which was scored by O'Brien in the 41st minute. Núñez sent a ball into fellow midfielder Mark Wilson, who in turn made a dead-on short pass to O'Brien, who sent a perfect strike into the left side of the net to deadlock the game at 1-1.
Wilson complimented Núñez's pass and his recent solid play.
"It (the pass) actually came from Ramon," he said. "He found a little gap and played the ball into me. I heard Ronnie screaming coming down the inside of me. I strolled it into his path and he did the rest. I did the easy bit.
"[Núñez] has got a knack of finding the little holes in behind the midfield and in between the back four," he said. "He gets on the ball at them, takes people on well and creates things. He's a good player. When a good player like him plays with another set of good players like we have, he's going to make things happen."
Núñez, who played one year at Southern Methodist University, is one of four current players on the Hoops roster who hail from the Dallas area.
One such player, defender Drew Moor, has noticed Núñez's recent resurgence.
"He's done well," he said. "I think he struggled a little bit early with his injury. I don't think he was able to get into the flow of things like he was at the end of last year. Ramon is going to be just fine. He's back stronger and his injury is better ... He's starting to play like he did at the end of last year, which is going to be extremely helpful for us."
Kenny Cooper, another Dallas native and FCD's current leading scorer with three goals, also chimed in with his thoughts on Núñez, someone he played against as a child.
"I think he's done awesome," he said. "I've always followed his progress. I grew up playing against him all the time. I think he's a great guy and a great player ... Growing up with him, I've always rated him extremely high."
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.