FRISCO, Texas — For much of the 2010 season, there has been a growing rumble among the FC Dallas fan base about right midfielder Atiba Harris.
Some argue the rangy starter from St. Kitts just isn’t producing enough and should be replaced in the first XI.
Sure, Harris’ numbers aren’t eye-popping—he has just three goals and one assist in 20 games—but to say he’s not contributing to FCD’s success is perhaps shortsighted to say the least.
For much of the season, the big midfielder has done things that often don’t show up in the score sheet, such as backtracking to make a big defensive play and using his size to draw opposing players away on set pieces.
And last Saturday night, those contributions were front and center on his side’s lone goal of the evening. In the 71st minute, Brek Shea headed past Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton after a great cross by Jair Benitez.
But what might have escaped some was that it was a run by Harris inside the box that drew several Chivas USA players away from Shea, leaving him open to nod home the game-winning goal.[inline_node:307103]
That fact clearly didn’t escape Shea, who credited his teammate for the tally.
“Atiba was going for the ball, but when he made a run for the near post, he took the defender away," Shea said. "That gave me a free header. If he wouldn’t have done that, then I would have had to fight with a guy for the header.”
Shea also sees his fellow midfielder contribute in other ways.
“He and Daniel Hernandez are the hard-nosed players on the team," he said. "They let the other team know that we’re here and not joking around."
And while the fan base has been clamoring to see someone other than Harris start on the right flank, FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman hasn’t made any changes. Harris is one of four players to start all 20 games for Dallas in 2010.
That’s because the FCD manager knows exactly what the 6-foot-3 veteran midfielder brings to his side.
"There’s a reason he’s played a lot of minutes for us—he’s a handful for the opposition,” Hyndman said. “He’s big, strong, athletic and courageous. Sometimes his first touch lets him down, but everybody but David [Ferreira] has that issue.
"He is a fighter. He is extremely hard working and competitive. He does so many things for us that people do not recognize. We’re a better team because of Atiba.”
When asked about his unsung contributions, Harris delivered his customary humble response.
“The coach always stresses making runs to free up teammates," Harris said. "It doesn’t matter if I score. I was in a good position, a good spot and decided to make that run towards goal and draw two defenders to free him up. I’m happy [Shea] scored.”
Harris does admit it might be a bit unfair that he and his fellow attackers are often judged solely on goals and assists, but he also realizes that such is life for most professional athletes.
“We’re professional athletes and that’s what we’re always judged by," Harris said. "Stats count but you need to do other things to help the team. I feel like I’m contributing by working defensively and by creating space for my teammates. Hopefully I continue doing that to help the team get into the playoffs.”
But he knows his teammates appreciate his often behind-the-scenes efforts.
“We’re a family here," Harris said. "Nobody sees the positives like we do here. Everybody is encouraging.”