Hoops trio lends stability to lineup

FC Dallas has now played 11 games this season and has used many different starting lineups. But three players -- goaltender Dario Sala, midfielder and captain Simo Valakari and defender Greg Vanney -- have been in the Colin Clarke's first XI for each contest. Such consistency is something the FCD head coach feels is vital to any team's success.

"It's good," Clarke said. "The start of the season has gone pretty well. You need a strong four in there that are going to start every week. You need to have that strong nucleus of players."

Sala is in his first year as the Hoops' starting 'keeper and he has performed very well. The Argentinean has allowed an average of just 1.43 goals per contest through 11 games with a 6-2-3 record and one clean sheet while playing in all but 45 of a possible 990 minutes.

He came out at halftime against New England with a 4-0 lead after suffering a right groin strain but his injury wasn't serious. Other than that, Sala has been between the posts the entire season for FCD.

This year is Valakari's third with the Hoops. Last year, not only was the Finland native named team captain to start the season, but was also rewarded with his first trip to the MLS All-Star Game.

Thus far in 2006, he has again been a solid field general in the central midfield for FCD. Valakari has recently taken a more active role offensively, which has paid off as he has one assist. Being on such a deep and talented squad, he understands the magnitude of being able to start every game so far this season.

"We have a big squad," he said. "It's nice to start every game, especially with the competition we have on this team. You have to have your core of players on each team."

Vanney is now in his eighth MLS season but his second with the Hoops after spending the previous four seasons playing professionally in France. The veteran central defender has been a steadying presence in the back four for FCD. His goal against Colorado in Week Three was his first MLS tally in nearly four seasons.

Being a core veteran is a role he relishes with the Hoops.

"I think it's important that you have some veteran guys who are out there day in and day out," Vanney said. "You know what you're going to get from those guys. You want to keep a consistent team as much as possible, especially when the team is doing well.

"It's fortunate for us three that we haven't had any injuries or anything else to keep us out of a game. I'm sure they're going to come at some point this season. At some point, we'll all get our break. It's important with good teams that you have consistency and strong leadership from the guys who are there to play every day."

Steve Hunt is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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