USL club Tulsa Roughnecks put up a serious fight, pushing the hosts throughout the first half before eventually equalizing early in the second. It looked like things would stay that way into extra time, but a late own goal by Tulsa – and the decision by Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja to remove some of his younger players for more regular hands – led to FCD’s 2-1 victory at Westcott Field on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
“Sometimes we can’t imagine how difficult these games become,” Pareja said. “We finally got an opportunity to see different ideas and rotating players at the beginning who aren’t frequent in the lineup, and then erase a little bit of disconnection, which is normal. You have to give them time to connect with each other, and I thought the boys did a great job to figure that out.”
Pareja partially attributed erasing the disjointed nature of the team to his insertion of Tesho Akindele and Michael Barrios in the 63rd minute, saying the team took things up a gear after they came on for Homegrown Players Coy Craft and Paxton Pomykal.
It was the former two players who made a difference down the stretch, with Barrios creating the game-winner by bouncing a shot off a Tulsa defender at the very end of stoppage time.
“We added more muscles there and speed and options up front,” Pareja said. “Mauro [Diaz] had different lines of passing, so it helped us a lot.”
Another positive from the win? The first starts of 2017 for Diaz and Ryan Hollingshead, both of whom suffered devastating injuries in recent months. Diaz started his first match since tearing his Achilles' tendon last October, while Hollingshead made his return to the XI less than five months after he was struck by a car and suffered a broken vertebrae. Both went the full 90.
“Mauro was growing as the game went on, and that’s great,” Pareja said. “I was waiting for him probably in the 50th minute to start dropping, and then he started growing. That gave me a lot of satisfaction, because that was the purpose.”
“I’m excited I got to play my first full 90,” Diaz said, via translator. “I knew it was going to be difficult in the first half. It was harder than the second. I couldn’t find my footing or the ball in the first half. I still have a long way to go since the first half was so much harder than the second.”
Pareja said another benefit of avoiding extra time was preventing Diaz from having to play 30 additional minutes.
The biggest win, though, was on the scoreboard.
“We feel like we’re the best team in the league,” Hollingshead said. “We can beat any team we can play against, and we really need to do that.”