FRISCO, Texas – Two weeks ago, they were making their first starts since their respective devastating injuries.
On Tuesday night, Mauro Diaz and Ryan Hollingshead were the difference between maintaining FC Dallas’ US Open Cup championship defense with a 3-1 round-of-16 victory over the Colorado Rapids and being eliminated from the tournament.
Diaz scored for the first time since the USOC championship last season on September 13, 2016, reaping the benefits of his own stellar passing that led to a penalty kick, which he capitalized on in typical Diaz fashion.
“Mauro kept growing on his rhythm,” said head coach Oscar Pareja. “I’m seeing him more often on the ball, and not just creating a good play and waiting for more minutes to create another one. His frequency is increasing. His talent is in tact, and that made us all feel very happy for him and the team. He had a great game, and the plan to have him in 60-70 minutes tonight worked very well.”
Hollingshead broke a scoring drought of his own, with his last goal coming over a year ago, on June 2, 2016 against Houston. Like Diaz, he started his first match in FC Dallas’ Open Cup run against Tulsa, but unlike his Argentine teammate, he had yet to play a full 90 minutes.
And while maybe not as flashy as Diaz, his performance against Colorado caught the attention of Pareja a bit more, due to both the nature of his injury (a broken vertebrae caused by a car accident) and his lack of minutes this season.
“I was hesitating a bit in the prior games because of the injury and rhythm and maybe not seeing him performing,” Pareja said of his jack of all trades. “Those sometimes creates doubts in a coach. But Ryan today showed us that he’s in tact as well, that he produces a lot of volume on that side, giving us a lot of plays going forward. His defense as well was very responsible, and I was delighted to see Ryan scoring. It’s fantastic for him.”
Added Hollingshead: “It’s so hard after being out for seven months to be back at 100 percent without playing a game. So a lot of my training I can do in practice day in and day out, and in the gym. But it’s really opportunities like this where I can play the full 90 minute games. That really pushes you to the next level. It’s almost impossible to do that in training. I was taking this game seriously and using it as a stepping stone for me to get back to that full fitness.”
The consistent production from both players, in addition to the many fresh faces Pareja has started in the team’s two USOC matches this season, is giving FC Dallas hope that its statistically mediocre attack so far could be trending in the right direction.
Tuesday night was only the third time all season they’d scored three goals or more in MLS or USOC play – a hopeful sign of things to come to the footballers from Frisco.
“When they kept the ball, they were moving the ball with a lot of sense,” said Pareja. “I was standing out there seeing them all very smart and the game flow for them. When the ball moved with that sense, the things were made easier and it provided a lot of options.”