FRISCO, Texas – When Schellas Hyndman was hired to coach FC Dallas in the summer of 2008, he made clear his intentions to upgrade his back line. He wanted not only bigger, tougher defenders, but also guys with enough speed to handle the fastest strikers and midfielders in MLS.
It took him over a year, but Hyndman finally got his preferred back four in place last fall. It all started when FCD drafted George John in the 2009 SuperDraft. Standing at 6-foot-3, John was in and out of the trainer's room in his rookie season, but when he played he clearly showed he belonged on the field as a starter.
Last July, FCD signed Colombian defender Jair Benitez. He stands just 5-foot-7, but Benitez, who started immediately at left back, brought the pace and propensity to get forward which the FCD manager had been looking for on the left.
In early September 2009, Hyndman traded Dallas native and fan favorite Drew Moor to Colorado for fellow Dallas area product Ugo Ihemelu, who scored a game-winner in his first game against the Rapids.
The final piece also came last September when FCD signed Heath Pearce. The US international and MLS All-Star was brought in for his speed at fullback and his ability to get involved in the attack. Pearce is currently tied for the team lead in assists with five and has also been solid in the back.
FCD head to Colorado this weekend for a match-up against big target striker Conor Casey and speedy forward Omar Cummings, two players who have wreaked their share of havoc on Hyndman’s club in the past. However, with his current back line in place, the FCD manager feels his club is better equipped to handle any attacking player in MLS.
“We’re now able to compete with any team in the league and with any player in the air,” Hyndman said. “Now we’re able to compete with any player with speed. Omar Cummings is extremely fast and strong. They’ve got him out wide, so he’s going to be burning. That’s his strength. Then, you’ve got Casey who’s very strong in the air and very physical. We’re a little bit more difficult of a team to beat on all levels.”
Since he played in Colorado from 2007 through 2009, Ihemelu knows a thing or two about Casey and what he brings to the table.
“Conor is really good at holding the ball up," the FCD defender said. "He’s strong and really good in the air. I’ve trained with [Casey] and played against him, so I have a pretty good understanding of how he plays. I think we should have a really good matchup.”
Ihemelu, who will be making his first trip back to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park since being traded from the Rapids last season, is also aware of the threat posed by Cummings.
“With guys like that, pace definitely helps trying to match up,” he said. “He’s deceptive. He’s on the ball. When they’re dribbling, it’s kind of hard to tell where they’re going. It’s going to be important that we play team defense because there will be flick-ons and guys running through ... We just have to be smart, organized and really cover for each other.”