CARSON, Calif. – When scouting out their Western Conference Championship opponent, Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena had a problem paring down their biggest challenges.
“Their flank play, the combination of players they use whether it’s been [Atiba] Harris, [Marvin] Chávez, Brek Shea, the Brazilian [Jackson Gonçalves] … they’ve been outstanding in those categories,” Arena said when asked about FC Dallas. “The experience of [Daniel] Hernandez holding in the midfield … they have a team, I’ve said this before, they’re very good in every position on the field.”
When FCD visit the Home Depot Center on Sunday (9 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes), the Galaxy will face a multitude of challenges. From their potent attack – led by MVP candidate David Ferreira and second all-time MLS goal-scorer Jeff Cunningham – to their goalkeeper, former Galaxy star Kevin Hartman, FCD have been a force this season.
FC Dallas went through the regular season with just four losses and reeled off an MLS record 19-match unbeaten streak, allowing 28 goals and putting 42 past opposing 'keepers.
“Dallas has been a terrific team on both sides of the ball this year," Arena said. "Hartman’s had a fabulous record, goals against. The defense has played well but what continues to catch everyone’s eye is their quality going forward. Ferreira you could argue has been the best player in the league this year. He’s a terrific player. The combination of Ferreira and whoever they choose as their forward has been outstanding.”
But FCD provide more than just firepower and talent.
“Dallas are incredibly athletic all around the field,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “They’ve got the best playmaker in the league on their team. They’ve got guys wide in the back and wide in the midfield who are just horses and just run and run and run.”
Added Arena, “They have good quickness and speed and you could see that [Saturday], especially in the first half against Salt Lake. They were outstanding going forward on the break.”
FC Dallas surprised Real Salt Lake in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series, beating RSL 2-1 at Pizza Hut Park. The loss was RSL’s first since July 20, when they also lost to FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park.
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Dallas struck early and forced Real Salt Lake to throw numbers forward in a desperate attempt to make up the two-goal series deficit. RSL broke through near the end of the match, but it was not enough to overcome the visitors.
Dallas had gone into Rio Tinto Stadium on the penultimate match of the season and lost 2-0, which snapped their MLS-record, 19-game unbeaten streak. The following week, FC Dallas went into the Home Depot Center and came away with a 2-1 loss to the Galaxy.
“It’s going to be a very challenging game like it was two weeks ago,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to have the same effort, same mentality and if we do that, we think we can win.”
While having played and beaten Dallas near the end of the season was no benefit to Real Salt Lake, Galaxy players said they will use their late-season victory to their own advantage.
“It’s valuable that they played that game like it meant something to them,” Donovan said. “We know exactly what it’s about. Mentally there’s a little bit of advantage knowing we beat them.”