FRISCO, Texas – Twenty-four hours before FC Dallas’ 2-1 win Saturday night over New York City FC, the plan for veteran midfielder Michel was the same as it has been since June 19: Be ready to come off the bench.
But when fellow midfielder Victor Ulloa was a late scratch on gameday after battling a hyper-extended knee throughout the week, ending a streak of 50 straight games started for the Homegrown product, Michel was thrust into a starting role at the last minute.
He responded in style, assisting on the team’s first goal and then scoring what ended up being the game-winner from a corner in Olimpico fashion.
“I know in the beginning of the season, I wasn’t that good. I missed a little bit of what the coach wanted,” Michel said. “But that’s part of a football player’s career. Kellyn [Acosta] came in and did a great job. I had to wait for my opportunity again. Tonight I had that opportunity, so I did my best.”
Michel is the latest FCD bench player to seize the moment when called upon. In their last home game, a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake, Tesho Akindele made his first start following a two-month stay on the bench and rewarded the team by scoring the game-winning goal.
Fast forward to Saturday night, and Michel rewarded the organization with a similar end product. Although he attributed part of his olimpico goal to luck after bending a free kick through a slew of NYC defenders, it was enough to hold off a second-half surge by the visitors, who drew praise from FC Dallas for making sound halftime adjustments.
Michel reminded onlookers of his contribution to the team on the opening goal as well, sending a pass from the Dallas third to a streaking Akindele in the NYCFC third. The Canadian finished after the well-placed ball found his feet, leading to strong praise after the match for his veteran teammate.
“His delivery is spot-on. I don’t know if anybody in the league hits a better ball, definitely not left-footed,” Akindele said. “Nobody hits a better ball. He’s incredible. Even his corner kicks, it was kind of a freak goal that it went in. But there’s so much pace in that shot, it can happen even against professional goalies. He’s amazing.”
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Head coach Oscar Pareja attributed the 34-year-old Brazilian’s performance to his fitness level, saying he is in the best form of the season.
Michel played the full 90 minutes – something he had only done five other times this season – which is why, according to Pareja, the veteran was able to contribute in all phases of the game.
“We are very dangerous [on set pieces] with Michel. I don’t think it’s a mystery,” Pareja said. “Michel has power and accuracy. But I wouldn’t box Michel tonight in set pieces. I thought Michel today did many other [things] that helped us.”
In addition to on-the-field contributions, Pareja noted that Michel exemplified professionalism in the way he has carried himself after only seeing the field for a total of one minute dating back to June 26.
Michel himself admitted he is not thrilled when he has to watch from the side, like any professional soccer player. But after playing a big role in Saturday’s win, which put the club just one point off the lead for the Supporter’s Shield, more than his head coach were admiring his professional approach to the game.
“That’s a true pro,” Akindele said. “He’s been around the block. He knew he was an important part of the team, and he was ready when he was called on.”
Scott Sidway covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com.