Dallas Soccer DFW

FC Dallas looks to knock off Houston Dynamo

Published 11/1/2007 11:46:48 AM by staff from mlsnet

When FC Dallas defeated Houston Dynamo in the opening leg of their Western Conference Semifinal Series last Saturday, the Hoops saw two battle-tested playoff veterans return to action who hadn't been on the field in a while -- left back Chris Gbandi and goalkeeper Dario Sala.   Gbandi played all 90 minutes on the left flank, had one shot and was a solid defensive presence. Sala was a rock in goal, saving four shots and getting his first career playoff shutout. It was also FCD's first playoff shutout win since 1997.

FCD head coach Steve Morrow was more than satisfied with the performances he got from both Gbandi and Sala.  "(Gbandi) was fresh and well-rested," Morrow said. "Chris has got a lot to offer at this time of the year. He's got the experience and has been here before. I thought he had a great game on the night and showed all of his class, experience and played very composed.

Morrow was also impressed in how well Gbandi matched up with one of Houston's best flank men. "(Brian) Mullan has had a good season this year and I thought he handled that situation with him well and won the one-v-one battle with him," Morrow said. "All in all, it was a very good performance from him."

The Hoops boss also offered an equally ringing endorsement of Sala's play between the posts in the big win.  "It was really only last week leading up to the game that Dario (Sala) felt like he had gotten back to his best in training and been able to do everything he wanted to do," Morrow said. "He got his sharpness back and I think he was more ready to play at the weekend. I thought that showed in his game."

Both players were obviously happy to make their return in the playoffs.  "It felt pretty good," Gbandi said. "When I talked to the coaches (last week) and they said I would be starting, I was pretty excited. Obviously, I was excited because it was a playoff game and I wanted to try and help this team move on. But playing against a Houston team with all my friends and family from that area was also very exciting. It was actually fun. The atmosphere was great and it was a good performance from the whole team."

Sala agreed. "I was trying hard and feeling better," he said. "This is was the first game since July that I didn't feel any pain in. During July and August, I didn't have one day of training where I didn't feel pain and I'm 33 years old. I was hurt and it hurt the team because I was playing when I wasn't healthy.  Being on the bench helped me to realize that I needed to be in the best shape to play," he continued. "I knew that once I was in my best shape that I would play and never lost hope. I was always confident that I would play the first game of the playoffs. That was my goal. I wanted us to have a good result in the first game and hopefully for the playoffs to end better this year. We need to go to the conference final this year. That's our immediate goal."

What made the return of Gbandi and Sala to the field for the Hoops all the more meaningful was the fact that both starters have experienced up-and-down seasons.  Gbandi missed three games due to various suspensions and also fought back from a loss of form late in the year. He played his last regular season game on Sept. 23, when he was sent off against the L.A. Galaxy after receiving two yellow cards early in the match.  Through it all, he never lost faith that he would return to the field come playoff time because he wanted to make amends for that ejection and another that came in the second leg of the 2006 conference semifinals, which was a big factor in the Hoops being upset by Colorado.

"I think I've always had something to prove from the time I've come into this league," Gbandi said. "People feel that I have all this ability but I haven't accomplished much but I look at it the other way. I've dealt with two knee injuries and an ankle injury but I'm still fighting.  The two red cards were both unfortunate situations," he admitted. "Some of them I could have prevented but they happened and I learned from them. Coming back to perform at the best of my ability shows the kind of person and player that I am. I just go out there, work hard and try to help this team win. I've learned from my mistakes and hope to keep getting better and helping this team."

Sala's year has also been a rollercoaster. He also started the year on suspension after an altercation in the final playoff game of 2006. After serving his six-game suspension, he was solid, starting 12 consecutive matches before missing the SuperLiga opener with a left MCL strain. That injury continued to bother him sporadically the rest of the year and he missed six regular season games because of it, including the last three.  But on Oct. 19, Sala got all the inspiration he needed when his wife gave birth to their first child. "This year wasn't a typical one in any sense," Sala said. "I had the suspension in the first six games, then came back in good shape and did well. But then, I got injured and lost my starting job. In the meantime, I had the happiest time. I would come to work and was sad because I had to work hard and because I wasn't playing.

"But I also realized that in a few hours, I would be going home and would become a father and would be a completely different person. It's been up and down this year until last Saturday. Now I have happiness in my job, in my home and I feel complete now. Hopefully in the next few months, we will add a title. Even if we don't win the title in D.C., I will be so happy to be there."

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