FRISCO, Texas — Two games in four days against the same team usually occurs in late October during the MLS Cup playoffs.
Or, as in Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas’ case, when a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup game coincides with MLS league play in mid-July.
The two Western Conference powerhouses are set for a home-and-home slate this week: a league game Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium followed by an Open Cup quarterfinal matchup next Tuesday night, July 12, at Pizza Hut Park.
“It’s really quite a coincidence,” FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman said. “We should know them well after these two games.”
As if the two clubs weren’t already familiar with each other. Last year's Western Conference semifinals saw the two foes collide, with FCD ousting the reigning 2010 champions from the playoffs by just one aggregate goal after playing to a draw in the seemingly impregnable fortress of Rio Tinto Stadium.
“It’s going to be interesting and definitely a challenge,” center back George John, who made the comparison to last years’ playoff meeting, said. “It will be a nice couple of battles in a row and hopefully we will come out on top.”
Due to the short break in between games, conventional wisdom might suggest that Hyndman and RSL head coach Jason Kreis rest several of their starters for Tuesday’s tournament match. The 2011 US Open Cup champions receive a spot in the preliminary round of the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League, but FC Dallas are facing the prospect of seven more games — four on the road — before the end of July.
“I haven’t thought that far in advance,” Hyndman said of Tuesday’s “second leg."
“Obviously it’s important that we rotate players and keep players fresh," Hyndman added. "There’s a lot of games coming up in this month and our players are all aware of how we have to be smart and rotate players whenever possible.”
FC Dallas travel to Utah with plenty of confidence on the pitch. Winners of their past three games, the team have scored eight goals and attempted 52 shots in the process. They also currently own a shutout streak of 199 minutes.
But Real Salt Lake counter the potent FCD offense with their own defensive prowess. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando has seven shutouts this season, and has enjoyed the benefit of playing behind the rock-solid duo of Jémison Olave and Nat Borchers. Borchers, however, will sit Saturday’s game while serving a suspension for the red card he picked up Monday against the New England Revolution.
“Olave’s very good,” Hyndman said. “Borchers and Olave are two of the better center backs in the league. I think George and Ugo [Ihemelu] are also two of the better center backs in the league, so there are a lot of similarities. “
John will be looking to make his presence felt against Real Salt Lake’s vaunted strikers.
“I always enjoy going up against [Álvaro] Saborío,” John said of RSL's Designated Player. “He’s a big guy and I like to play against him, so it will be a good matchup.”
And if John and Ihemelu can live up to their managers’ billing and keep Saborío and Fabián Espíndola from finding the net, FC Dallas might just return to north Texas with a little extra swagger for Tuesday’s return fixture.