Zip it: Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas

FC Dallas took advantage of a red card and the Texas heat to post a 3-1 comeback victory over Philadelphia Union Sunday afternoon at Pizza Hut Park. FC Dallas is now unbeaten in their last nine matches.

Union opened the scoring on an odd-looking play in just the 9th minute. Alejandro Moreno was the beneficiary of missed clearances on the play by both Heath Pearce and George John, who saw the ball travel literally between his legs. Moreno pounced on the loose ball and deflected his shot past Kevin Hartman for the early 1-0 lead.

Union’s advantage and momentum came to an end only 13 minutes later when Philly goalkeeper Brad Knighton was shown a red card for his tackle on Brek Shea inside the box. Knighton misplayed a routine ball intended for Shea, then added to his mistake by taking down the Dallas winger, who was on the way to the ball and an easy tap-in goal. David Ferreira sent the resulting penalty kick past usual Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz to notch the score 1-1.

Jeff Cunningham’s insertion into the match at the second-half restart paid dividends as Dallas pressed the attack in the withering Texas heat. Cunningham, known for his ability to score goals in bunches, found the back of the net twice on the day.

Cunningham’s game winning brace came in the 75th minute. Brek Shea served in a beautiful ball from the left flank which Cunningham nodded down past the helpless Seitz. Then in the 81st minute, Ferreira played Cunningham in behind the Union defense and into a one-on-one with the Union ‘keeper. Cunningham easily won the battle, providing the final score on the day, 3-1.

It was a fair result on a day that saw Dallas rebound from early jitters and took advantage of a major mistake. Union had controlled much of the early possession in the match as they attempted to control the tempo. They were rewarded for their hard work with a goal, but once Knighton was sent off, Dallas was nothing but methodical in their plan to wear out the Union defense. Dallas possession and ball movement was crisp as they played the ball into the wide areas on both sides of goal. It was almost inevitable that Dallas would break through to control the match against the packed-in Philly side.

Good teams find ways to win, especially in matches they should. Dallas did not allow early shaky play to avalanche into a long and brutal afternoon. Instead, it was the near immediate result of an attacking mood that allowed Dallas to come back in the match. It is getting to be a little bit old hat, but this team doesn’t lay down for anyone and seems to have no lack of will to win. There seems to be no lack of desire to press the attack under almost any circumstances.

That Dallas scored another penalty kick goal is telling. While Dallas has struggled at times to score from the run of play, it seems like they get penalty kick opportunities on a regular basis. This must be due to the number of excellent chances created. Ferreira, especially, is a chance-creation machine. If there is a better passer in MLS, please let me know who it is; his current form is almost too good to believe. But chances are coming from all over the field. Only several errant crosses from the foot of Jair Benitez and an easy miss from Atiba Harris stopped Dallas from winning this one in a much more gaudy fashion.

Jeff Cunningham finally took advantage of his chances, a reminder of the player who scored 16 times in the last 14 matches a year ago on his way to the Golden Boot. Cunningham is wildly streaky; his ability to marvel and frustrate seem to come over long stretches. His struggles this season have been well-chronicled, but Sunday’s match demonstrated why Schellas Hyndman has not been quite ready to throw in the towel on Cunningham’s season. If Cunningham is finally coming out of his first-half funk Dallas opponents will have great reason to fear; Cunningham’s “arrival” signals new problems that will provide difficult questions to opponents from here on out. Dallas fans can only hope that Cunningham has found the answer.

The defense continues to be strong as well. Dallas does not allow their opponents to find the back of the net more than once per match- if at all. When opponents score, the Dallas response has been thorough; they simply shut down their opponents. Dallas has not allowed more than a single goal in a league match since April, a stretch of 14 matches, a massive improvement over one of the league’s shakiest defenses from a year ago.

After spending two years outside the playoffs, FC Dallas has returned to the upper tier of Major League Soccer. It is getting more and more difficult to find major problems within the current team. The signs that this team is the real thing are there. Unbeaten streaks will do that. There is still much soccer left to play, but the excitement in Dallas is building again and it’s a beautiful thing to see.