There was nothing easy about FC Dallas' midweek Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League match against Real Estelí FC.
Not the journey to Nicaragua, not the three-hour bus ride from the team hotel in Managua to Estadio Independencia, and certainly not an opponent desperate for three points to keep their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage alive.
“I think coming here we knew we needed to get a result away from home,” Atiba Harris said. “It’s a difficult place to play. Real Estelí had nothing to lose, they had everything to gain. They had to throw everything at us. We soaked up the pressure, got the goal and got the point.”
Harris provided that critical goal, an equalizer just two minutes after Elvis Pinel sent the raucous Real Estelí crowd into a frenzy with the opening goal at the five minute mark.
The veteran stopped the “Train of the North” and its fans in their tracks.
“It was a great cross from Mauro Rosales,” Harris said. “It was perfect timing right after they scored so it kind of took the air out of their crowd and the atmosphere kind of dampened.”
According to FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja, it was the perfect response after a sloppy mistake.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It is great to have something that characterizes this group. The response after the mistake we made in the first few minutes was phenomenal. There are still a lot of things we need to get better at though. We should not be giving up that type of goal so early in the match. It is something that frustrates us for sure but the response was great.”
Critical in helping FC Dallas navigate the difficulties of playing in Central America for the Champions League was the calming presence of Honduran international Maynor Figueroa, who started centrally in a four-man backline.
“He knows the region well. He knows the tournament. He knows the referees and the atmospheres. He knows the cities. He helps us to grow,” Pareja said. “This is a group that has not had a lot of experience with this competition. It’s good for us to have someone with that much leadership.”
With just one team advancing in each three-team group, FC Dallas made Group H a two-team race by eliminating Real Estelí, which earned just one point from their first three matches.
FC Dallas, which beat Real Estelí 2-1 at Toyota Stadium to open the group stage on August 4, is in prime position to advance to the quarterfinals. There are still two matches remaining against Guatemala’s Suchitepéquez, which is in second with three points from their lone match – a 1-0 win over Real Estelí.
FC Dallas hosts the Venados on September 28th before heading to Guatemala City for the return leg on October 20.
But first the attention for thinly spread FC Dallas shifts back to league play and a showdown against Houston on Saturday (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“It is an important match for us. We have to turn our mind around again. We have been shifting from one competition to the other for a while now,” Pareja said. “We are fortunate to be able to say we are in the final of the U.S. Open Cup. We are first in our group in CONCACAF Champions League. We are still fighting for the first position in the league table. It’s not an easy task for the boys. They are doing a terrific job. We need to turn around again, quickly.”