Zip It: FC Dallas at Colorado Rapids

Post All-Star break points are precious. Dallas earned one valuable point in yet another road draw with the Colorado Rapids 1-1 Saturday afternoon at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park outside Denver.

Dallas opened up the scoring in the 22nd minute with an own-goal from Colorado’s Julien Baudet. David Ferreira’s excellent pass freed left back Jair Benitez streaking down the left touch line. Benitez crossed the ball into the box towards Milton Rodriguez but the ball found Baudet’s foot instead and was redirected past a helpless Matt Pickens for the 1-0 Dallas lead.

The Dallas lead would hold for a mere four minutes.

Colorado would score from a penalty kick from Mehdi Ballouchy to provide the match’s final outcome. Dallas right winger Atiba Harris handled a ball from a corner kick to send Ballouchy to the spot, where he easily outguessed Dallas ‘keeper Kevin Hartman.

Harris did not have a good day and was pulled on the hour mark. One play where Harris could have easily redeemed himself with a misplay of a wide-open chance from a cross off the boot of Rodriguez. Instead Harris missed the ball almost completely. The camera showed Rodriguez shaking his head in disbelief and Harris was later pulled from match for out-of-favor Marvin Chavez.

But Harris was not alone in missing chances. Clearly Rodriguez appeared frustrated with several chances the goal-scorer felt he should have completed. Bad-haired Brek Shea chipped in with another miss. Lack of finishing has been a problem all year for FC Dallas and this day would be a return to poor scoring form.

But this match also served additional proof that the 2010 version of FC Dallas are a much improved side, the league’s hottest, and arguably one of its best. Despite the poor finishing, Dallas managed to push their unbeaten streak to eight matches. Dallas also owns the best road record in MLS, a key quality that can only help in the playoffs.

Ferreira has figured out this league. His laser-like passes and dogged determination on the ball leads Dallas and creates chances almost at will. Ferreira is clearly Dallas’ most effective weapon; other clubs know this but seem helpless to contain El Torito. There is not much more Ferreira could do to help this point. It is simply up to his teammates now to finish the chances he creates.

The defense continues to be solid. A year ago, Anthony Wallace’s lazy play allowed Colorado’s Omar Cummings to tie the match in the 84th minute, a result I am still sore about. This year, Anthony Wallace, traded in the last week, sat with the reserves for Colorado and Benitez was in his place in the Dallas first team. I wish Wallace all the luck in the world, but he became expendable as this club has improved its personnel. There is little to resemble that shaky, wobbly side of a year ago. A year ago, Dallas could barely contain the speed of Cummings. Cummings was mostly ineffectual in this match as the Dallas defense turned away most scoring opportunities.

When Colorado did create chances, Kevin Hartman’s strong form kept the game in check. Hartman was only credited with three saves, but they were all excellent. No one should doubt El Gato’s contribution to the stability this team has garnered. As Dario Sala sat out his suspension for a red card last weekend, El Gato left no doubt who is the number one keeper on this club now.

It’s also good to see this team go into hostile environments looking for the win. It all starts at the top.

With a half-hour to play and the outcome very much in doubt, Colorado coach Gary Smith made a midfield change to shore up the Rapids’ defense. What? Seriously? FC Dallas fans would have been screaming for Schellas Hyndman’s head, and rightfully so. Hyndman answered by inserting Jeff Cunningham for Rodriguez to run at the tiring Colorado back line. It is too bad that Rodriguez is not yet match fit; a 90-minutes ready Rodriguez would have paired nicely with the brighter Cunningham we saw today. In any case, Hyndman is seemingly always poised for the attack, yet solid attacking options from the bench appear thin with Eric Avila out of favor and Dallas missing another solid striker option.

Still, another decent result on the road was earned by the good guys. A year can make all the difference in the world, but crunch time has officially arrived. But few could doubt that this team should be positioned to earn the critical points down the stretch needed to secure a playoff berth. Every point from here on out is precious indeed.