WASHINGTON - Even though they came into the match undefeated on the season, FC Dallas faced a stern test Saturday night when they came to the nation's capital to face a similarly undefeated D.C. United side in rampant form. But the visiting Hoops managed to equal United's effort, coming home satisfied with a 1-1 draw.
"It was a very good game for both teams. The game had a good pace and tempo, and both teams scored similar strikes from outside the box," said Dallas head coach Colin Clarke. "But, we got the result [we wanted] at the end of the night."
D.C. United midfielder Ben Olsen, not usually a prolific scorer, gave the home side an opening in the 17th minute with a left-footed drive inside the right-hand post from about 22 yards out after receiving a delicate lay off from Josh Gros. Despite being ahead at home, United were unable to contain the Dallas offense, who equalized in the 41st minute from their Irish sparkplug, midfielder Ronnie O'Brien.
As always, O'Brien was dangerous throughout the night, making penetrating runs at the United defense, pinpointing deep crosses across the length of the pitch, and tackling hard in the midfield to win balls. Despite scoring the tying goal with a rocket from 25 yards out towards the end of the first half, O'Brien tabbed someone else for capturing the point.
"[Goalkeeper] Dario [Sala] was the man of the match today," said O'Brien. "He kept us in the game and made some great saves. A point on the road is always good, especially against a great team like D.C. United."
The Argentinean 'keeper, who has started every game this season in place of injured veteran Jeff Cassar, made a string of spectacular stops throughout the game to preserve the tie for the visitors.
"Sala played very well," said Clarke. "He earned his money tonight."
In the second half, Sala came off his line on two separate occasions to stop Alecko Eskandarian with diving saves at the striker's feet. But they weren't his most impressive saves of the night.
In the 65th minute, Sala robbed countryman Christian Gomez. When Eskandarian was brought down just barely outside the box by Alex Yi, Gomez, one of the top dead ball specialists in MLS, stepped up to the ball and directed a curling shot that looked destined for the top right corner of the net. Yet, out of nowhere, Dario made a spectacular, leaping, one-handed save to parry the ball to safety.
"It was wonderful," Sala said. Having played against Gomez in their native Argentina, in addition to being good friends, it was even sweeter. "I told them before the game [Argentineans Gomez, defender Facundo Erpen and forward Lucio Filomeno, with whom Dario played in Mexico] I was going to beat them."
Sala's spectacular saves managed to keep the league's highest scoring team at bay, but he found help from a new source, second-year defender Yi, making just the second start of his career. With Gbandi out, Yi handily stepped into a central defense role, helping thwart the menacing attacks of Gomez, Eskandarian and Jaime Moreno, as well as Freddy Adu and Gros.
"Those guys are ridiculous," Yi said. "You look up and there are six guys running at you down the throat."
Despite making his first start of 2006, Yi said he felt comfortable, citing the reserve league experience gained last year when he was on the FC Dallas roster. He started one MLS game in his rookie year, playing 66 minutes in a start against San Jose.
Yi's strong play in the back received a commendation from Clarke as well, saying Yi played "very well in the middle of the back."
Perhaps Yi felt right at home, since he grew up just a short drive north on I-95 in Baltimore, where he starred in high school for national powerhouse McDonogh High School before moving on to two year stints at UCLA and Royal Antwerp in the top-flight Belgian league. He had approximately 25 family and friends here to support him.
In the 2005 campaign, when the Hoops came out of the gate on fire, racing to a 7-1-3 record in its first 11 games, they looked like the team to beat. Again, this year, Dallas seems well on its way towards looking down at the rest of the table.
"[This year] the team spirit is strong, chemistry is good, and the locker room is stronger [than last year]," Clarke said. "We are very happy with the way we have started the season." Next for the Hoops is the first intrastate clash when they take on Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium next Saturday night.
Jordan Brown is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.