FRISCO, Texas– FC Dallas’ season relies on one match. A win, and the team return to the playoffs. A loss or a draw, and eyes will be pinned to the Portland versus San Jose and Los Angeles FC at Colorado games.
FC Dallas is in control for its final match of the season against Sporting Kansas City at 4 p.m. ET Saturday (ESPN+). A shot at the club’s first MLS Cup is on the line.
“There’s five games to win MLS Cup, something the club history doesn’t have on its shelf yet,” Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez said. “We’re really excited to play this first game of five, to try to get to take the next step. We’re embracing the pressure and the stress of it.”
It’s been a difficult end to the season for the team. After a big 3-1 victory Aug. 31 against lowly FC Cincinnati, Dallas struggled to produce goals, scoring a grand total of once in the last four matches. The losses on the road have been devastating, including a 4-0 loss against Chicago and a 3-0 loss at Colorado last week.
Those results were analyzed by the team and coaching staff, but now they’re putting them in the rearview mirror. To FC Dallas, a new season starts now and every game is do-or-die.
“You have to own it and face it within 48 hours for sure,” Gonzalez said of the rough patch. “After that, it’s done. It’s in the past. We can’t control it. You can only control how you react. What’s in the past is in the past. Winning or losing in the past isn’t going to help us. It’s about what’s going to help us here on out. It’s the most important thing.”
There’s pressure on FC Dallas to earn this playoff spot. Sure, it’s the first year under head coach Luchi Gonzalez and FCD is the youngest team in the league, but the team has been in a favorable playoff position all season. Many thought this would be a rebuilding year for the team, but the players bought into Gonzalez’ style and brand of soccer and he offered opportunities for young players, such as Brandon Servania and Paxton Pomykal, to flourish.
“People are going to say that we’re young and we’re just more focused on our development than winning the trophy, but we don’t have that mindset,” Servania, 20, said. “We don’t care how young we are. We got a lot of young guys but were all super competitive. We don’t like to lose, and I think that’s going to help us.”
But playoff pressure is something many players such as Servania, Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira have not faced in their careers just yet. Making the playoffs would be another step for the development of players, putting them in pressure competitions and having them learn and grow.
Key veterans with experience in high-stakes competitions, such as Ryan Hollingshead, Reto Ziegler, and Matt Hedges will play vital roles in keeping their teammates calm and focused.
“We need to play freely,” Hollingshead said. “We need to play our game. Don’t play under that stress or under the weight of that stress. Play freely. When we do that, we’re a really good team. So that’s what we’re preaching.”
Sporting Kansas City is already eliminated from playoff contention, but has a lot of talent and plenty of veterans to make it a tough matchup.
“Competing with the best and doing it consistently over a half, over 90 minutes, over a series of games — that’s in front of us. Let’s go. Let’s do it,” Gonzalez said. “The only way we’re going to take a good step next season is ending this season with putting everything on the line and fighting for each other like brothers.”