Dallas beat Chivas USA 1-0 Saturday night at Pizza Hut Park on Brek Shea’s 71st minute header. The win was Dallas’ third in a row and runs their unbeaten streak to an impressive 11 matches. In a match that started in 102-degree heat, scoring chances and energy were at a premium.
It was Jair Benitez’ lofty cross from the left flank that would provide all the service Dallas would need on the evening. His lovely ball to the back post allowed Shea to perform another first in his young career: score from the header. Shea placed the ball back inside the goal-mouth and away from the helpless Zach Thornton.
Dallas would also call on the services of Kevin “El Gato” Hartman again. Hartman had three more excellent saves, one in the first half on Dario Delgado, then two more in rapid succession in the second half, first on Michael Umaña, then within the next minute on Delgado again. Hartman’s excellence from the back continued to lead his club as he recorded yet another clean sheet.
It’s worth noting that Thornton was no less than spectacular on the evening. The 36 year-old 2009 MLS Best XI ‘keeper almost single-handedly kept Dallas off the board. His save on a free-kick from Milton Rodriguez was a parallel-to-the-ground flying thing of beauty. As a Dallas supporter, it was disappointing; as a fan of the Game, it was beautiful.
Speaking of clean sheets, the shutout is particularly noteworthy due to the absences of the injured Dax McCarty and Ugo Ihemelu, replaced by rookies Eric Alexander and Zach Loyd respectively. Neither starter’s position on the pitch is easily replaced. That Head Coach Schellas Hyndman continues to be rewarded for his faith is noteworthy. Remember that Hyndman has proved himself to have few sympathies for young players, preferring to go with experience whenever he can. Yet Hyndman has not deviated from the tactics that proved successful when both starters were on the pitch, a fact that cannot be overlooked when assessing the play of these two rookies.
Hyndman has also shown little tendency to break from the tactics that has served the club so well. Opponents know exactly what they are facing when they play Dallas. Dallas continues to rely on the same formations and defensive ploys match after match; there is no trickery or subterfuge here. If this were American football, you’d describe this club as one who just lines up and comes at you until you stop them. That’s also an excellent indicator of where this club is. That teams cannot stop Dallas shows just how well-oiled the machine has become. It certainly doesn’t mean an opponent won’t soon discover the players and tactics to put an end to this golden streak, but Dallas seems to show the will and tenacity and talent to keep the mood positive for some time.
Another player worth mentioning in this match is Milton Rodriguez. No, he didn’t score a goal, a troubling fact. But Rodriguez was called offside at least four times in the match. Why is this noteworthy? Remember Carlos Ruiz? It was always my view that Ruiz was on the cusp of figuring things out when he started racking up offside calls. Rodriguez appears to be close to getting on the same page as his teammates. Perhaps the corner was entered in the match, but with only 58 minutes of action and a streaking Jeff Cunningham off the bench, the corner was never turned. If Rodriguez catches fire, this team may be near unstoppable. Time will tell if I am right.
Lastly, let’s pay a little tribute to Jair Benitez. Benitez has often been maligned for sloppy play in this column, most notably for poor service and defensive positioning. But Benitez made plays on both sides of the ball that were game-changers. First, his aggressive and speedy backtrack to parry away what would have been a one-on-one with Hartman saved Dallas from going down in the match in the first half. His assist to Shea was not only beautiful; it also was taken from very high on the pitch. Don’t underestimate the importance of the Dallas outside backs getting forward; in fact, this team would lose a sizable portion of their scoring punch were Heath Pearce and Benitez prevented from wandering high into the dangerous flank areas outside the opposing teams box. For all of the grief I have hurled at Benitez, getting forward is perhaps his strongest trait. The player must add more assists, but the danger is there.
So Dallas wins another match; the new culture of winning prevailing in this match and on the season. It’s easy to spot the positives in this club; in fact, there seem to be so many that it’s not easy to write about them all in one column. But the bottom line is Dallas did it again and the signs are there for more. Holy cow, it’s nice to watch!