LOS ANGELES – They might not want the rest of the league to know it yet, but FC Dallas are feeling pretty good about the 2018 season right now.
While free-scoring Sporting Kansas City and Atlanta United grab headlines and Orlando City, NYCFC and often LAFC pop up in conversations about teams capable of dethroning Toronto FC from MLS dominance, FCD continue to quietly grind out results.
And that’s the way they want it.
“It’s better for me if nobody is saying too much about the team,” head coach Oscar Pareja said after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with LAFC. “We have been, in the last four seasons at this stage leading the standings, and everybody saying that we’re going to be the champions and we’re the best team, then sometimes we haven’t accomplished what we want.”
Currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference with two games in hand on early leaders Sporting KC, the Texas outfit bounced back after their only defeat of the season — a 3-1 loss to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium — to split the points with the ascendant expansion team in their second game at Banc of California Stadium.
“LAFC has a very good team,” said Dallas substitute Kellyn Acosta, who made his first appearance of the 2018 campaign after recovering from hernia surgery. “It was a difficult atmosphere playing here and the circumstances with the heat, but I thought we came in here and did the job we needed [to get] away with a point.”
Acosta practically had to shout to reporters following the match, because music was blaring in the visitors’ locker room, where the mood was jubilant after a hard-fought contest.
“I think we belong up there in the top,” the US national team midfielder said when asked about his team’s place in the Western Conference. “We had some results at home that we wish we could have gotten back, some points that we squandered a little bit [but] all in all, today we showed we can compete.”
Dallas snuffed out a potent LAFC attack bolstered by Lee Nguyen’s debut in LAFC colors, defending doggedly in hot midday conditions.
“We’re going to take the point against a good team in a difficult afternoon, with the heat and the conditions,” Pareja said, before declining to rank his team in the West hierarchy.
“It’s early to say where we are. The only thing I can say is that we’re consistently progressing with players.”
Pareja hopes Acosta can help Dallas capture their elusive first MLS Cup after finishing tops in the conference in regular-season play in 2015 and 2016.
“We were still tentative today to throw [Acosta] into the lineup since he’s missing normal rhythm with games,” the coach said. “The maneuvers with the ball and his presence with us helped a lot.”
Acosta’s return was one of the positives Saturday, and he noted that over the course of a long season, grinding out points on the road will help them make up for the points dropped in three home draws earlier this season.
“Playing with the circumstances is definitely difficult,” Acosta said of his first visit to LAFC’s brand-new home stadium. “I know Oscar is very proud of us and we’re proud of each other because we battled for 90-plus minutes, so that’s something to build on.”