A frequent sight before and after FC Dallas training is a trio of starters -- defender Jair Benitez, midfielder Marvin Chavez and fellow midfielder David Ferreira -- hanging out and playing mini soccer games, the loser of which gets a flick on the ear. Watching them for only a few minutes, it's easy to notice how close their relationship is.
FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman, his fellow coaches and the other players also take notice and are routinely entertained by the trio's antics.
"There is a true bond between those three," Hyndman said. "The first thing is language. The second thing is they all come from similar cultures and I think their relationship on the field is really one of friendship and brotherhood. I think it probably goes off the field to family. We laugh sometimes because they're always doing silly competitive games and the loser gets the ears flicked. They come up with little games. The three of them love each other and they really seem to be enjoying their time together."
At 31, Benitez is the oldest member of the group. He will be FCD's starting left back when they open the season against Houston on March 27. He made 13 starts a year ago after being a late-season addition and had one assist.
"That relationship between the three of us is a strong one and is growing," the Colombian defender said. "It makes us feel part of the group as well. The group has accepted us as the jokers but it's been a very positive thing as it continues to grow. It makes us feel very welcome into the whole process."
Chavez is 26 and played in seven games last year while also being added late in the campaign. The speedy Honduran has been one of FCD's top performers in preseason with two goals and one assist and should start the year as Hyndman's right midfielder.
"They are very nice guys and I really get along with them," Chavez said of Benitez and Ferreira. "We speak the same language and it's easier to communicate with them but all the guys are great here."
Last year, the Colombian-born Ferreira was one of just two starters to play in all 30 games. He contributed eight goals and seven assists as the club's central attacking midfielder to earn consideration for MLS Newcomer of the Year.
"My relationship with Jair (Benitez) extends back several years when we were both playing with the national team. When we played in Colombia, we would also face each other," Ferreira said. "I'm very happy that he's here. That relationship has strengthened since he's been here. It's good for me that he's here, having a countryman here is always important. With Marvin (Chavez), it (our relationship) is growing.
"We just got to know each other last year. It's a family. Our families are becoming tighter and tighter. It's not just us. It's our spouses that are becoming close. The wives and kids are getting together and starting to do things together as family. Obviously, that's very important."
The game the trio plays has been picked up -- in a way -- by the entire FCD team. During FCD's media day, Hyndman couldn't resist flicking his Colombian defender's right ear while walking behind him in the course of an interview, drawing a surprised response and then a smile.
"It's a game with three balls," Benitez said. "Everybody has a ball, there is a line and everyone is trying to get there. It's a game that the rest of the group and even the coaching staff, they laugh about it. Sometimes they hit so hard that I end up holding my ear. It depends on the level of what we do. That is not true that he (Ferreira) always wins."
"The games are an extension of the relationship that we have. Usually before practice starts, we all get together," Ferreira added. "It's usually a game that we came up with as a way to pick on each other but it has also helped us to come closer and bond. It helps us to relax before training. The games don't have a name but someone picks up a ball and has to do certain things. If they lose, they get a little flick on the ear. I feel like the group is really coming together. I am the one who always wins and the one who suffers the most is Jair."
However, there is considerable debate between the three about who loses the most and thus, gets their ears flicked most frequently.
"In the beginning, I used to lose a lot," Chavez said. "I have already passed Jair and Jair (now) loses everything."
Ferreira didn't hesitate to crown himself the winner.
"All three of us make mistakes but Jair and Marvin get the most. I am getting less (ear flicks than them), so I am the winner," he said.
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com.