FC Dallas traveled to San Salvador, El Salvador, on Tuesday afternoon into the unknown that is CONCACAF Champions League play with little knowledge about their preliminary-round opponents, Alianza FC.
However, while the two clubs are facing off for the first time, they do have one connection: former Dallas Burn and Alianza defender/midfielder Jorge “Zarco” Rodríguez.
A native of La Unión, El Salvador, Rodríguez played six seasons for the Dallas from 1997-2002 and scored 25 goals, good for sixth all-time in club history.
“I was happy when I played with Dallas,” Rodríguez recently told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “Right now with Alianza, I am in the middle because I have a lot of fans here in the United States and a lot of fans in my country.”
Rodríguez has numerous records with the Dallas side. He sits in second place all-time for minutes played with 12,972 and is tied with former striker and current Portland Timbers forward Kenny Cooper for most penalty-kick goals scored with seven.
A former member of the El Salvador national team, Rodríguez was also named the Burn’s Defender of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
Now 40, Zarco spent a brief time with Alianza following his MLS career and has his own opinion about Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League play-in series between two of his former clubs (10 pm ET, FOX Soccer).
“Last season, [Alianza FC] won the championship in our country,” he said. “Right now, they have 10 championships and are playing better, but I think Dallas will have a lot of chances to win this series.”
Alianza open their 2011 Apertura season on Aug. 2 against CD Atlético Balboa, and with FC Dallas halfway through their 2011 campaign, match fitness will be an issue for the Salvadoran side.
“The big problem that Alianza has right now is that they are just starting their season and Dallas is in the middle of their season,” Rodríguez said. “Dallas will play at 100 percent while Alianza maybe will play around 75 percent.”
Rodríguez also said Alianza’s style of play is like that of Mexican and Central American teams, where they pass the ball around and hold possession, and are very technical on the ball.
He also spoke about the fan support that Alianza had during his time with los Albos.
“Alianza is a big team in our country,” he said. “The fans are loud because they have a lot of support. They support the team to play better.”
But if Alianza struggled on the pitch, the fans turn on the team in anger.
“When the team played better, the fans came to watch," he said. "And when the team played bad, fans supported other teams."
In the end, the middleman — whose September 1998 game-winning goal against the Chicago Fire was recently named the top win in FC Dallas franchise history — is indifferent to the victor in the aggregate-goal qualification series.
“If Alianza wins the series, that’s OK,” Zarco said. “If Dallas wins the series, that’s OK.”
Robert Casner covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @FCDallasBeatGuy