Galaxy-FC Dallas: In praise of the Hoops' stars

Galaxy fans know all about Kevin Hartman, who manned L.A.'s nets for a decade and had a tremendous year this season for FC Dallas. The goalkeeper from Palos Verdes was the difference for the Hoops this year, bringing stability to a defense that needed it -- no coincidence that the 19-game unbeaten streak started shortly after he became the No. 1 goalkeeper.

On the field, the most important players are 5-foot-5 playmaker David Ferreira, a 31-year-old Colombian who is expected to pick up Major League Soccer's MVP award this week, and central midfielder Daniel Hernandez, a 34-year-old Texan who started his pro career with the Galaxy (back in 1998) and played in Mexico for Necaxa, Puebla and Jaguares before joining FC Dallas last season.

Here's the best of what was said about Ferreira and Hernandez heading into Sunday's Western Conference final between the Galaxy at FC Dallas (Home Depot Center, 6 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes):

On David Ferreira“Good quickness, good endurance. He's tough. I think he's the heart of the team. I think he inspires them. I think his performance [in the second leg of the first-round series at Real] Salt Lake was outstanding, his performance when they beat [RSL] in the first leg was impressive, and he's the player who set up the winning goal.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena:

“He's really an impressive player and a player that you can't lose your concentration against, because if you do, he'll take advantage of that.”

FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman: “He's wonderful. I first saw him in 2005, when I was down in Brazil doing a coaching course. And I was wondering: 'Why would a Brazilian team bring in a Colombian when you have so many good players in Brazil?' And the more and more I watched him, I go, 'Wow, this guy's really good.'

“He's so different. He's so strong, he's got such a low center of gravity, and he's such a hard worker. He was the first player I brought here that I thought could really turn this program. He's been unbelievable. … He's a difference-maker. David is basically the guy who pulls the strings for FC Dallas. That is no secret, that's the way life is.”

On Daniel Hernandez:“Daniel takes care of things. He's a policeman. … I brought him in for the comfort zone of having somebody I know and I can trust. Ugo [Ihemelu, a starting center back] the same way. They played for me at SMU, and when you have players that believe in what you do, and they speak behind your back in a positive way, they lead in the right direction, it makes every coach's job easier.”


Galaxy captain Landon Donovan: “You could tell when he got injured [with a hamstring strain] in the last few weeks [of the regular season] that they struggled a little bit. I think tangibly it's hard to pinpoint what he does. He's a good passer, he tackles, but I think he's their leader. You can tell when he's on the field, they have more character, they're a toughwer team, and they're a better team.”

UP TO THE REFS: FC Dallas is expecting a tough encounter from the Galaxy, which is expert at bringing a physical component to its defensive play and committing early fouls to break up their opponent's rhythm.

They just hope referee Jair Marrufo will step in if things get too physical.

“One of the staples of a Bruce Arena-coached team is they're very tough to play against,” FC Dallas midfielder Dax McCarty said. “They're very strong defensively, and with Juninho and Dema [Kovalenko] in the middle there, they make it tough for guys to come in and try to play, and they're going to be very physical.”

The Galaxy's physical play certainly disrupted Seattle in the first leg of the first-round playoff series, with Kovalenko's play setting a tone for the games that the Sounders couldn't overcome.

“Dema is just a very hard-nosed player,” McCarty said. “He tries to make life difficult for the more attack-minded players in the middle of the field, and he's got a lot of experience. He's played on a lot of winning teams. He knows what he's good at, and I think he'll try to definitely frustrate us. It's going to be our job to stay calm, play our game, and hopefully if things start to get a little physical, the referee will have a cool head and calm things down a little bit.”

Hyndman, noting the Galaxy's approach against Seattle, stressed that Marrufo must be at his best for the match to proceed fairly, so that, he said, “the physical play doesn't occur or be consistent.”

Arena's take, naturally, is different.

“Well, really in our series at Seattle, there wasn't any physical play,” he said. “There were one or two fouls that you could be concerned about, and they drew cards. But somebody is confused. There was no physical play. Two teams playing and trying to win. I didn't see anything that was extraordinary in terms of the physicality of the game.”

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM: FC Dallas used rookie forward Andrew Wiedeman, who did not play in an MLS game this season, to replicate the balls David Beckham so dangerously delivers from the right flank.

Seems an impossible task -- there are few crossers Beckham's equal around the globe, and certainly none in this league -- but Hyndman, as he told the league's website earlier in the week, found the diagonal balls from Beckham “a problem we had to deal with … something I felt like we needed to work on.”

How hard is it to cross like Beckham?

“Obviously, everyone can do it,” says the man himself, “but it's about players getting on the end of it.”

Beckham's right, but the quality of the service determines how easy it is for players to get to the ball. His knack for putting crosses right on the stride or head of teammates is what makes him special.

Wiedeman knows. “I don't think I did it any justice,” he told mlsssoccer.com.

“Wiedeman is a very good player,” McCarty noted. "The job that Beckham does, no one can emulate.”

PREVIOUS MEETINGS: Arena and Hyndman have matched wits five times in MLS, with Arena winning two of the games (both of this year's regular-season meetings), Hyndman prevailing once (a 6-3 laugher last season at HDC), and the other two ending even.

They met once as college coaches, back in October 1987. Hyndman's SMU upset Arena's Virginia, 1-0, in Dallas.

“The key thing in that game: I think Bruce was No. 1 in the country, and we were probably No. 3 or 4, and [former U.S. national team star John] Harkes got red-carded.”

Hyndman's right that Virginia was No. 1 -- it would be another two years before Arena won the first of five NCAA titles in six years -- but SMU was ranked 19th when they met.

They have nothing but warm words for each other:

Hyndman on Arena: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, not only as the L.A. Galaxy coach, but what he did at D.C. United [winning the first two MLS titles], with the U.S. national team and what he did at Virginia.”

Arena on Hyndman: “He's had a great reputation as a college coach, had a lot of years at SMU and was very successful, and he also was deeply involved in coaching education, which in my view, if you can do that, there's a place for you in heaven, because that's one of the most massive headaches in this game is having coaching education, trying to get the message across to aspiring coaches. And Schellas has done that for a number of years, so my hat is off to him.”

Harkes, by the way, will be on hand Sunday evening. He'll be the analyst on ESPN's telecast.

THE PAST MEANS NOTHING? The Galaxy's 1-0 decision May 20 in Frisco, on Mike Magee's 17th-minute goal, was the last time FC Dallas was beaten until the loss Oct. 16 at Real Salt Lake. L.A. won the second meeting, too -- that means two of the Hoops' four losses this year came against the Galaxy -- rallying for a 2-1 victory on a Beckham free kick and superb Juninho finish in the regular-season finale.

Do those games play any role in what occurs Sunday? Depends on whom you ask.

“Having seen them recently, it helps,” Arena says. “And it helps them as well. … Perhaps it makes things easy because we're familiar with them a little more than we would be.”

FC Dallas would like to think otherwise.

“Obviously, everybody is aware that they've beat us twice this year,” Hernandez said. “But as a player, I don't think it bothers us at all. … I'm not worrying about the past, what's happened, what streaks that we've had this year. … We still come in with the same confidence with the same mentality of trying to win the most important game of the season right now.”

Hyndman notes that his team was quite different for the Oct. 24 game. Hartman hadn't returned yet from injury, at least not returned to the field, and Hernandez didn't play, and Ihemelu went in only the closing minutes.

Arena doesn't buy it.

“I don't think that's a different look,” he said. “I don't think it changes them at all, actually. It's the same team with the same key players. I think we're pretty familiar with what they have.”

HARTMAN'S KNEE: Hartman reports that his right knee still bothers him a little -- he sprained his medial collateral ligament in mid-September and missed the last six weeks of the regular season -- at least when he tries to take goal kicks.

“Only when I kick a dead ball off the ground,” he said. “I've been workjing on it this week. I would definitely like to give it a chance, because we're out of [the team's on-field] shape at that point when we have somebody nelse come back and do it. So I'm trying to push along with it.

“I realize that with my technique, I use my MCL a lot to kick from a dead ball maybe more so that a lot of people do.”