The 2015 Audi MLS Playoffs may be a few weeks away, but a regular season home-and-away series between two Western Conference contenders is an early gift for MLS fans.
FC Dallas felt the early playoff energy as well, playing the Vancouver Whitecaps to a gritty 0-0 draw at BC Place on Wednesday that inched the visitors back into a tie with the LA Galaxy atop the Western Conference.
“Performances like this one where we can go away and get points and get a clean sheet and look solid in the back while creating our options - those performances will make us stronger in the playoffs,” said head coach Oscar Pareja.
While the Dallas attack struggled to finish its four shots on goal, the backline played playoff-caliber soccer for over 90 minutes. Young ‘keeper Jesse Gonzalez only had to make two saves on the night thanks to a tactically sound defense that routinely got in between the ball and their own net.
It’s a welcome change for a club that has struggled on the road against playoff-level teams this season, considering Dallas had only collected points against current MLS playoff teams twice before Wednesday's draw.
“It was one of our best away performances all year defensively,” said defender Matt Hedges. “We limited chances and gave them one header off the crossbar. Other than that, I thought as a unit we played extremely well.”
Even while playing an organized game in the back, Dallas can look at the other side of the coin and see missed opportunities to thrust themselves even closer to the Supporters' Shield lead, which they currently sit three points back of after the New York Red Bulls grabbed a win on Wednesday.
Midfielders Mauro Diaz and Ryan Hollingshead had clean looks in the first half that ended up in or off of the hands of David Ousted, and Blas Perez, who subbed on in the 83rd minute, was inches away from stealing three points in stoppage time after squeezing a grounder just wide of the post.
“We had our chances, and sometimes it just works out that way that you get unlucky and things don’t bounce your way,” Hollingshead told MLSsoccer.com. “But getting the shutout was huge for us.”
Splitting the points also keep Vancouver one point behind Dallas in the standings, which is crucial for both teams as they jockey for seeding in the west in attempt to achieve a first-round bye.
“At this stage, everything we do in these last four games is going to be a playoff series,” Hollingshead said. “They’ll be a good test for us going into the playoffs, because we know at this point these games are huge for setting us up for a good spot in the playoffs. I think this game shows we’re ready to go, but we’ve still got three more to prove that.”
And they feel good about building on a strong defensive performance before defending their turf in next week’s rematch.
“Things are not going to get any easier from now on,” Pareja said. “Coming to this place and getting a result and clean sheet is important for our confidence and our defense. It’s going to be hard, but we’re growing.”