Sunday, March 17, 2013

MLS' most underrated rivalry

Kinnear: Fightin' mad!
DALLAS — Hundreds of Dynamo fans boarded buses in Houston at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, bleary-eyed and drowning in coffee. They packed their flags and their drums and their trumpets and their scarves and left before the sun rose.

They arrived en masse at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco around 11 a.m., an hour before game time, quickly ushered by stern security officers to a slice of bleacher behind the south goal. Security men in white shirts and black pants ringed the group for the rest of the afternoon. A hearty "You suck, Dallas" chant quickly rose from the group.

Minutes later, FC Dallas' main supporters group, the Dallas Beer Guardians, set up their snare drum line and responded with like-minded chants and sneers. Dallas coach Schellas Hydnman saw it firsthand before he even stepped on the field.

"When I drove up today, I got bashed by Houston fans," Hyndman said. "I don't know how many will be there when I drive out."

Welcome to the most underrated rivalry in MLS.

And what a game it was. Dallas scored twice in two minutes in the opening half for a 2-0 lead, and Houston responded in the second half with two rapid-fire goals in four minutes. The second went in with just seven minutes left in the game. Houston's slice of orange understandably erupted. Game on.

But then, in the 90th minute with time running low, Kenny Cooper sliced in behind a defender, headed down a ball and then powered it home. With the Beer Guardians partying just feet away, he wheeled out of the penalty area and ripped off his shirt. Cooper's first goal back in Dallas won it — 3-2, game over.

It was an appropriate way to end the Texas sports rivalry that perhaps gets underserved attention for its sheer intensity. The weekend was Rivalry Week in MLS, meaning the league paired each of its best rivalries to promote the league. Of all the games during the weekend — namely DC-NY and Seattle-Portland, which got the most press — ESPN chose Dallas-Houston for its centerpiece.

Cooper, who scored 40 goals in 90 appearances in Dallas between 2006-2009, was flagged for some controversy when it appeared the header that led to the winning goal glanced off his hand. Was it a handball? Even Cooper isn't sure, though the video replays seem conclusive that it was.

"I honestly don't know," Cooper said. "I think I may have gone to head it and somehow it ended up falling right in front of me. I'm honestly not sure."

The game was chippy, but that seems like a prerequisite when these two get together. Both teams share a world of enmity for one another, and the product was an at-times rough game that produced a number of fouls. That led Houston coach Dom Kinnear to go on this rant about the state of the league in which he indirectly calls FC Dallas cheaters.

"I thought the first few minutes looked really good," Kinnear said. "And then a big guy out in the field threw himself to the ground and gets a free kick. And they got a goal out of it. I've watched this league for three weeks now and it saddens me that we have people who have no prolem diving, and looking for fouls and then looking to the heavens.

"It's a sickening epidemic that's going on in our league and hopefully it cancels itself out here pretty soon. Because some teams play hard, some guys cheat. Sometimes the cheaters win. When you have guys that don't even get looked at, don't get touched, falling on the ground looking for fouls, it makes me want to throw up."

There aren't many rivalries in any sport that can produce that kind of to-the-bone hatred. This is one does.

Houston had its chance in the 22nd minute. Giles Barnes galloped into the box through a channel on the right, and Will Bruin, anxiously pointing to his feet as he flashed open in the box, was utterly unmarked with an open goal in front of him. Barnes, though, opted to let rip at keeper Raul Fernandez instead. He couldn't cut the tough angle and Hernandez had an easy save he pushed wide.

Bruin never got a better chance. He pulled up with a hamstring injury early in the second half and was forced off for Brian Ching. The moment of indecision killed the Dynamo, who soon found themselves looking down the barrel of FCD's explosive set piece arsenal. Not 15 minutes later, Dallas crushed home two goals in two minutes to take its first two-goal lead over the Dynamo in the history of the series. Both came from set pieces.

Hyndman's biggest roster gambit was pairing Andrew Jacobson with 31-year-old Brazilian Michel, a February acquisition who hasn't had much time to settle in since leaving Greek side Aris. Michel, though, looked composed deep in midfield, and his deep, curling free kick led to FCD's first goal. Later, he swung in the ball that led Cooper's game-winner. Other than a poor clear that led to Houston's first goal, he acquitted himself well. It was Michel's first game ever paired with Andrew Jacobson in the middle, and they swept off myriad Houston attacks until defensive miscues got the better of them late.

Houston responded to Dallas' early burst in kind, needing just four minutes in the second half to even the score. Then came Cooper's first goal back in Dallas since 2009, lighting a fuse that'll be burning for a long time coming.

"The fans, they have a tremendous presence, and their fans did a good job traveling," FC Dallas center back George John said. "Our fans are fired up for it, so it's great to see the fans really fired up, especially on a Sunday at noon."

- Will Parchman

1 comment:

Phil McCracken said...

This ended up being the best match of the weekend. Also, it was nice to see a lively crowd in Frisco.