FCD set to face tough road test in Columbus

Dallas defense finally healthy in crucial early-season matchup

FRISCO, Texas – After hosting the first two games of 2011 and only taking one point from a possible six, FC Dallas hit the road for the first time as they visit the Columbus Crew in the first leg of the 2011 Pioneer Cup on Friday (7:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

After FCD’s 2-0 defeat last Saturday to the San Jose Earthquakes, goalkeeper Kevin Hartman admitted the team is ready to get back on the pitch and forget about what happened.

“I don’t think anybody that was out there felt really good about our performance,” Hartman said after Wednesday’s training session. “That’s just how it is and that’s why we enjoyed those 19 weeks so much last year because we didn’t have to spend a week worrying about what had gone wrong.”

Not everything came easy for FC Dallas early in 2010 either. Before the team began its 19-game unbeaten streak on May 27, they had accumulated a mediocre 2-2-5 record.

In last year’s Pioneer Cup – the name given to the rivalry to commemorate Lamar Hunt and two of his MLS teams – both matches ended in a draw. Through the first two games this year, each team has managed a single point, making Friday’s battle at Crew Stadium even more important.

“It’s going to be a good game,” said midfielder Eric Avila, a good friend of Crew players Andy Iro and Robbie Rogers. “It’s tough playing there but we are a good team that loves away games, and we perform well in away games.”

There’s also good news on the injury front for FC Dallas, who will likely boast a defense finally at or near full health. Ugo Ihemelu continues to train with the team after his sports hernia surgery and has been on each of FCD’s 18-man game-day rosters.

Brek Shea also returns from his one-game red card suspension and George John said this week his ankle is “fine” after having offseason surgery.

“We’ve been dealing with some injuries and trying to get a group out there that is going to be the right one, and unfortunately in the first two games we didn’t do as well as we would have liked,” Hartman said. “We do have high standards and high aspirations for ourselves and we will continue to work as hard as we need to, to put ourselves back in contention.”

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