FRISCO - Backed by victories over FC Barcelona and Club Sporting Cartagines (Costa Rica), FC Dallas only needed a result better than a one-goal loss against Japan U18 national team on the last day of Dallas Cup group play on Wednesday.
However, playing for the bare minimum is not this team’s style. The MLS academy came out on the front foot from the opening whistle and was rewarded for positive play with a penalty kick goal, and a red card to the Japan keeper, in the first ten minutes. Japan grabbed the equalizer in the 32nd minute, but FC Dallas’ perseverance and pressure were too much and the home team picked up the winner early in the second half.
“I am so happy for all the hard work that the boys put in,” head coach Oscar Pareja told Goal.com after the game. “Now, we are in the semifinals and we are going to fight for that game.” The players shared the enthusiasm of their coach after a victorious day at Pizza Hut Park.
“It feels great,” forward Jonathan Top said to Goal.com about advancing to the next round. “Hopefully, we play the same way [in the semifinal] we have been playing and we score some goals.”
“It is a dream come true,” defender Moises Hernandez, said about advancing to the semifinal. Hernandez went on to talk about how as a local, he watched Super Group from the stands as a kid.
The berth into the semifinal is monumental for FC Dallas as it is the first American club to advance past group play since 2006 and the first MLS academy ever to achieve such a feat.
Pareja downplayed the significance by calling it just another step in the journey. Their journey will continue on Friday against a very familiar foe, Tigres from Monterrey, Mexico. A team that FC Dallas faced recently when the Mexican club came up to Frisco, Texas a couple weeks ago.
Dallas’ game finished earlier in the day, so the players were not aware of which team they would face in the semifinal until later in the evening when Tigres and Corinthians played for the last spot in the final four. However, the players were not concerned about the opponent.
“It doesn’t matter what team we play,” Top said. “God will help us and we’ll win that game and win the final too.” The self-belief is echoed throughout the team.
“Just win Dallas Cup,” midfielder Daniel Garcia told Goal.com about the goal for the team at the tournament.
A simple, assured statement defined Dallas’ mentality since the first kick at Dallas Cup. When the academy that has only been around for a handful of years faced off against Spanish giants, FC Barcelona, the Texas club showed moxie and took the game to the visitors.
Following that 3-1 victory over the favorite of the group, Dallas’ confidence rose to a new high and it has carried through group play as the defense has only conceded two goals in three games and both came from the penalty kick spot.
It will be tested on Friday though as Dallas squares off against the Mexican club that has cruised through its group with victories over MLS academies RSL-AZ and Vancouver Whitecaps as well as Brazilian powerhouse Corinthians.
Joining FC Dallas and Tigres in the semifinal are Eintracht Frankfurt and Arsenal FC. Semifinal play begins on Friday at 6:30 p.m. (CT) with the two European teams squaring off first before the two North American clubs take the field at 8:30 p.m. The games can be viewed on Foxsoccer.tv.
However, it was not all positives for FC Dallas on Wednesday. FC Dallas’ younger Academy team dropped a 1-0 result against West Side Metro Premier (Oregon) and was eliminated in group play for the U-17 age bracket.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer.