Luchi Gonzalez - Clapping and walking
USA Today Sports

FC Dallas approach must-win Decision Day clash as "first playoff game"

MLS teams are fond of saying they’re already in playoff mode at this time of year. For FC Dallas, that cliché is now very much the official state of things, as they are in a must-win situation on Decision Day presented by AT&T if they are to be assured of a berth in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.

“The way we’re looking at it from here on out is there’s five games to win an MLS Cup – something that the club doesn’t have on the shelf yet,” first-year head coach Luchi Gonzalez said this week. “And we’re really excited to play this first game of five to try to take the next step in the pursuit of an MLS Cup. That’s our focus.”

FCD are mired in a four-game winless skid as Sporting Kansas City visit Toyota Stadium on Sunday (4 pm ET | TV & streaming info), a run ominously similar to the three-game losing streak that capped their 2018 regular season, the prelude to a meek 2-1 home loss to the Portland Timbers in the Knockout Round of last year’s playoffs.

There’s a new coach and an array of new players with this year’s edition, and Gonzalez is urging his squad to seize the moment, rather than shrink from it, as they race the Timbers, Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes for the Western Conference's final two slots

“We’re embracing the pressure,” he said. “We’re embracing the stress of it because stress is what makes us grow as human beings. No one has ever achieved anything special without being in a stressful moment. We are in a stressful situation and we’re going to look at it in a positive way and embrace the opportunity that it provides us.”

Depending on results in the Portland-San Jose and LAFC-Colorado games, Dallas could still back in to the postseason with a draw or a loss to Sporting, who themselves are already eliminated from contention. They’re leaving no room in their preparations for those possibilities and permutations, however.

“For us, this is one of the finals now,” said striker Zdenek Ondrasek, who will depart for international duty after Sunday’s match thanks to his shock call-up to the Czech national team. “We know how important it is and we’re getting ready for it. I hope the fans will come to support us because they have been amazing this year, and we need them – we need them on Sunday.”

Gonzalez issued a similar call for the FCD faithful to play the 12th-man role, and for his players to earn that support with their blood, sweat and tears.

“This is our fortress; this is our stadium,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got amazing support here to try and show our best for our fans and our families here. Our boys take a lot of pride playing at home, so this is a great opportunity. Here at home it’s a game where we can control the outcome, but we’re going to take it one step at a time. On Sunday, it’s our job – it’s our duty – to leave everything out on the field for our home fans.

“Do it with absolute commitment and intensity and energy. These are all subjective things that pump the blood through our veins and make us come alive. I think we’re at a point where it’s not about Xs and Os, it’s about getting the blood pumping. Let’s really fight. Let’s really show energy and life. And that’s what we have the opportunity to do and what we plan on doing.”

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