It might not seem like all that long ago that a newcomer from Colombia named Jair Benitez joined FC Dallas. His MLS debut came in what was a disastrous second-half performance in a resounding road loss to Real Salt Lake and Benitez’s play was one of the few positives to come out of that defeat.
The year was 2009 and after playing 13 games in what was FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman’s first full season on the job, a season where Benitez contributed one assist, the 33-year-old Colombian defender has become a fixture at left back.
Benitez comes off a 2011 season where he played in 27 games, including 25 starts and chipped in three assists. Sure, there have been several notable mental lapses for this talented South American, namely several red cards, but other than that Benitez has been a consistent and durable presence on the left side of the Dallas back line. That alone says a lot considering MLS is a league where constant player turnover is the norm.
“Time’s gone by really fast but things are going really well. I hope that this year goes really well because I like being here and like being part of this team,” Benitez said through a translator. “I think we have a good chance to win a championship.”
FCD’s starting left back got a contract extension in 2010, a deal that wasn’t made public until last season when Hyndman said his dependable starter was locked in for several more years.
Almost ever since he arrived in Frisco, Benitez quickly developed a friendship with fellow Colombian David Ferreira, the 2010 MLS MVP, as well as with midfielder Marvin Chavez, who was dealt to San Jose late in 2011. In fact, the bond between this talented trio was so strong that they earned the fitting nickname of “The Three Amigos”.
So, when the band was broken up with the trade of Chavez to the Earthquakes late last year, it saddened this veteran fullback on several fronts. “I felt bad because he was important for our team. I felt really bad because for one, he was a really good player but also, he was really close with all of us, not just me,” Benitez said. “But you’ve got to keep going and we’re going to go on without him.”
As Chavez has moved on to a fellow member of the Western Conference, Benitez has seen two players he knows quite well join FCD over the last few months. The first is Panamanian-born striker Blas Perez, someone who Benitez knows from their time as teammates with Deportivo Cali in Colombia’s top flight. “I’d already played with Blas in Colombia at Cali and now he’s here. I’m really glad he’s here and I really hope it works out for him here,” Benitez said. “Well, I think he’s just a little bit more experienced [now than when we were teammates before]. He played a little bit in Europe but now he’s over in the MLS. I just hope he does well here.”
Benitez is also pretty stoked to see another Colombian join the roster in recent addition Hernan Pertuz, a talented center back from his home country. “I’m happy for him. I think he’s done really well in Colombia but this is a different league and I think now that he’s here he’s going to do really well,” Benitez said. “I hope that he does but I feel it’s good to have more Colombians on the team, so that’s a good thing.”
A member of the FCD team that played in the franchise’s first-ever MLS Cup just two years ago, that’s an experience Benitez wants to repeat, but this time he wants to come out on the other end of the equation as part of the team holding the championship trophy. “We’re feeling good as a team. We’re getting ready for the season and we really want to win a championship this year,” Benitez said.