FRISCO, Texas – Despite being one of the five youngest teams in MLS, FC Dallas were able to conquer a tumultuous Western Conference schedule to earn a franchise-record 60 points this season.
But even while riddled with youth, the team say they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in without the leadership of some of their key veterans.
“I think we have spent a lot of time talking about the youngsters and how young the team is and the Homegrowns. But we have to recognize the impact the veterans have had on this team and the way they help them get through stretches,” Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja said. “Those guys are very valuable for us.”
Dallas have leaned on their veterans all season. They'll continue to do so as they begin 2015 Audi MLS Cup Playoff run at the Seattle Sounders on Sunday (9:30 pm ET; FS1, FOX Deportes in the US, TSN in Canada), with defenders Je-Vaughn Watson, Zach Loyd and Atiba Harris – the only players on Dallas’ roster that have been to an MLS Cup final – and vocal reserves Blas Perez and Dan Kennedy all set to play a major role.
“Their experience is a tremendous help for us,” Homegrown midfielder Victor Ulloa told MLSSoccer.com. “They talk to us. You should hear Blas talk to us. Dan as well, talking to the players, and not just [20-year-old starting goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez], about their experience and what they’ve been through. Even though Dan hasn’t been on many playoff teams, he knows how the game is and he reads it well. He helps us a lot by just communicating with us.”
Perez did not seem to initially adjust well to his decline in minutes beginning in August, seeming to show those frustrations in training and occasionally declining to speak to the media. The Panamanian international has never stopped being a constant voice for his teammates, however, regardless of whether the team is succeeding or playing poorly.
“He just motivates us,” Ulloa said. “He’s always talking, always pushing us, ‘Come on, let’s go! Let’s go!’ Sometimes we’re down and he’s still motivating us. ‘Come on, we can turn this around!’ He tries to coach all of us. He’s like our side coach, an assistant coach for the team.”
As for Kennedy, his leadership is being felt in particular by Gonzalez, who supplanted him in the lineup in August. Kennedy has never started a postseason game in his MLS career, even though he made the playoffs with Chivas USA in 2008 and 2009.
Though he’ll likely be riding the pine again on Sunday, the 33-year-old feels this playoff run takes the cake in terms of chances of winning a title.
“Our first year at Chivas we were real contenders, but then we started fading,” Kennedy told MLSSoccer.com. “But without a doubt, this is my personal best opportunity to win an MLS Cup, and you just don’t know how many of these chances you’re going to get. So you have to take advantage of them.”
Kennedy still considers himself a young guy, even though he is surrounded by a roster consisting of 17 players 25 or younger. But knowing that he is closer to the end of his career than he is the beginning, the opportunity to be part of a championship run is something he cherishes.
“It’s a chance to win something. This is what we all dream about,” Kennedy said. “We all dream about playing for championships, and here we are.”