Commentary

Showing a lot of Hart(man)

Kevin Hartman was key to FC Dallas' win over L.A.

Updated: November 15, 2010, 10:50 AM ET
By Jeff Carlisle | ESPN.com

CARSON, Calif. -- The goalkeeper who came in from the cold is on fire, and now FC Dallas is headed to its first-ever MLS Cup final.

FCD rode a stellar team performance in dismantling the Los Angeles Galaxy 3-0 on Sunday night to claim the Western Conference title. And like most playoff victories, the winning side was chock full of heroes. David Ferreira burnished his ever-growing playoff resume with a goal and an assist. Center backs Ugo Ihemelu and George John were solid in marshaling the Dallas defense. And outside midfielders Marvin Chavez and Brek Shea succeeded in using their athleticism to literally run L.A.'s midfield into the ground.

But all of those efforts would have been for nothing if not for the performance of FCD goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. The one-time Galaxy netminder pulled off a string of superb saves in the game's first 31 minutes that otherwise would have left the hosts booking plane reservations for next weekend's MLS Cup festivities in Toronto.

[+] EnlargeHartman
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesKevin Hartman saved the day for FC Dallas.

The match was just eight minutes old when Hartman parried away a dipping 30-yard shot from Mike Magee. He then swatted away a Juninho blast that the FCD keeper said was "all over the place" in the 21st minute. A David Beckham free kick bounced awkwardly inside the box two minutes later and was ticketed for the upper corner until Hartman intervened to touch it wide.

"It could have easily been 1-0, 2-0 in favor of the Galaxy, everybody saw that," said Dallas captain Daniel Hernandez. "But Hartman makes great plays and keeps us in games, and honestly, that's been the difference for us all year."

Dallas delivered a sucker punch in the 26th minute that turned the game around. Chavez found Ferreira wide open at the top of the box, and the Colombian easily evaded L.A. center backs Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza to rifle his shot past Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts.

"That goal maybe changed the game a little bit in terms of them having to throw a little bit more forward," said Hartman. "We just tried to stay disciplined and when we got opportunities I thought we were really, really effective with them."

That they were, but not before Hartman delivered his fourth vital save of the half, touching Landon Donovan's angled drive around the far post. It allowed Dallas to take its advantage into halftime, and second-half goals from John and Chavez allowed the visitors to put the game away against an increasingly frustrated Galaxy side.

"I think when you look across the field, we didn't really have a player that didn't have a good game," said Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman. "I think it took every player having a good game for us to get this result."

The night wasn't quite perfect for Hartman. His weak punch in the 54th minute fell invitingly for Donovan, but his looping effort with the FCD goalkeeper stranded flew just over the bar.

"The game has moments, and those key moments make the whole difference," said Hyndman. "They hit a couple of shots, they had an open goal when Kevin came out and went for a ball and he [punched] it. That's not the same Galaxy team that we've seen all year that would capitalize and put those opportunities away."

That was the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding night. Just for good measure, Hartman pushed away a Beckham free-kick in second half stoppage time to preserve the shutout. The irony, of course, is that late in preseason Hartman was a man without a team. A bitter contract dispute with Kansas City resulted in the Wizards signing Jimmy Nielsen, leaving the one-time Goalkeeper of the Year in purgatory. The Wizards owned his rights, yet had no intention of signing him or putting him on the roster. Retirement was a real possibility.

Dallas finally came to Hartman's rescue by obtaining him for the relatively cheap cost of a 2nd round draft pick in the 2012 SuperDraft. As Hyndman put it, "He just fell in our lap." But even that deal came with the caveat that he would be Dario Sala's backup. Hartman quickly proved himself, however, grabbing the starting spot in the season's third game. A knee injury courtesy of Thierry Henry's ill-advised goal celebration sidelined him for six weeks, but Hartman returned for the playoffs and along with Ferreira has been one of the team's MVPs.

"I've always felt like I owed the ownership group and the staff of the team something in return for the fact that they stepped up and took a chance on me at an awkward time," said Hartman. "So I came in respectfully, and worked alongside Dario [Sala] the entire year. And it's been an opportunity to prove my worth, and certainly I tried to do that on a day in and day out basis."

Hartman has done that and more, a fact noted by Ihemelu, who was Hartman's teammate on the Galaxy side that won the 2005 MLS Cup.

"I think Hartman wanted to prove a lot after what happened to him in Kansas City. He wanted to show that he still has it in him," Ihemelu said. "He's had great games for us all season. And I would say this year he's playing better than he was back 2005 when we won the championship."

If Dallas is victorious next week against Colorado, it will mark Hartman's third MLS Cup title. For the keeper who came in from the cold, that is a warm thought indeed.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.

Jeff Carlisle | email

U.S. soccer correspondent
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.