Zip it: FC Dallas at D.C. United

FC Dallas (8-2-9) overcame a motivated DC United side at RFK Stadium 3-1 Saturday night to push their unbeaten streak to a club-record ten matches. David Ferreira (36’) and Jeff Cunningham (92’) tallied for the Red Stripes and rookie Eric Alexander (49’) scored his first career goal. An own-goal from the foot of Dallas left back Jair Benitez accounted for DC United’s only score of the night.

United emerged from the opening whistle with the intent to physically dominate Dallas, each player literally fighting for their jobs under interim coach Ben Olsen. While FC Dallas never trailed on the night, they had a brilliant first half from goalkeeper Kevin Hartman to thank. Hartman’s four outstanding saves helped keep United off the scoreboard in a first half dominated by United until Ferreira scored in the 36th minute against the run of play.

Alexander’s excellent defense-splitting through ball sprung Brek Shea into a one-on-one with United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who charged at Shea. Shea calmly squared the ball to the onrushing Ferreira who found the open net for a 1-0 Dallas lead.

Dallas would gain control of the match afterward, although the score would not change until after the restart. It didn’t take long for Dallas to find the back of the net.

Brek Shea wrestled down a long pass and found Ferreira on the left side of the box. Ferreira beat his man and sent the ball on a backwards diagonal that found the feet of Milton Rodriguez. Rodriguez simply laid the ball at the feet of Alexander, who aimed the ball into the inside side-netting for the 2-0 lead.

But a mistake from Benitez put United back into the hunt in the 80th minute. Benitez appeared to be confused on a long cross into the box. While it is uncertain that Benitez might have been able to head the ball away, the player appeared to be caught in no-man’s land. His attempted kick clearance sailed straight by Hartman to narrow the Dallas lead to 2-1. However, United never posed a serious threat again.

Jeff Cunningham would remove all doubt in stoppage. Benitez sent a long clearance forward towards Cunningham. Cunningham beat the United defender to the ball, then calmly rounded Hamid to slot the ball into the back of the net, ending the match 3-1.

This was another excellent win for FC Dallas. The club overcame a very tenacious side determined to physically dominate the game. DC United is a poor club, despite their storied history, but with Ben Olsen at the helm they took on the gritty determination he was known for during his playing career. Perhaps Dallas received the blessings of the Soccer Gods by not allowing any of United’s hard work to pay dividends.

Perhaps it was just Kevin Hartman. The Dallas goalkeeper stole the show Saturday night in the first half. His excellence on the year was summarized in the first half alone. Each time Dallas coughed up the ball in a dangerous area or DC United made the threatening play, Hartman was up to the task. Hartman’s play kept the match scoreless until Ferreira’s goal turned the tide.

Then there was the play of Eric Alexander. The rookie, inserted into the lineup for the still-ailing Dax McCarty, had perhaps his best day yet in a Dallas uniform. While he was responsible for a turnover that led to a spectacular Hartman save, the rest of the day he just made plays. Signs of what this player can be are there. His vision and ability to beat two defenders with a laser-like pass led directly to the first goal. Later, his coolness on the ball sent Dallas up 2-0 early on in the second half. Like Shea, we are witnessing the emergence of a talent that should provide Dallas fans with much joy in the coming years.

Speaking of Brek Shea, I admit I have not spent enough time pointing out the emergence of this player. It’s not enough to say that his play has erased doubt about the departure of Dave Van Den Berg. Shea is emerging as a potential star on this club. His tireless work-rate and improving touch are light years from where he began the season. His mental game has stepped up to the task, too. The player who early in the season seemed to panic in the face of goal is now spotting chances for assists under heavy duress. Remember, Shea is 20 years old; he’s just going to get better. You can bet that the rumors and speculation about Europe won’t be far away either. Shea is the real deal; enjoy him while he’s here, bad hair and all.