FRISCO — Luchi Gonzalez is a nice guy. The first-year coach of FC Dallas can get forceful with a message when he needs to, but he’s not one to give a paint-peeling rant after a match or go after a referee if he feels like a call didn’t go his way.
The guy was a math teacher, for goodness sake.
So when he says he has some animosity toward FCD’s rival, the Houston Dynamo, you have to take note.
“I have a teaching background so the word hate is not one that I like to use, but we’re certainly going to build an energy to make sure that Houston’s not in our way in terms of our plans to get into the playoffs,” Gonzalez said. “We need to get them out of our way. We’re going to be very motivated for that.”
It’s rare neither Texas team is flying high in the standings, but that’s the situation both teams find themselves in ahead of Sunday’s matchup. FCD’s stated goal all year has been to make the playoffs. Gonzalez’s squad sits in eighth in the Western Conference. The top seven go to the postseason.
The Dynamo have largely abandoned hope for this year, firing head coach Wilmer Cabrera on Aug. 13. Davy Arnaud was named interim for the rest of the campaign.
The North Texas side is tied on points behind Portland for the final playoff spot but has played one fewer match than the Timbers, who have a glut of home games left because of early-season construction. The good news for FCD is they still have several matches left at Toyota Stadium, where they’ve lost just once this year.
“This is a must-win. We have four games left at home and need 12 games out of those for sure if we even want to have a sniff at getting in the playoffs,” midfielder Paxton Pomykal said. “We definitely can’t drop points at home, especially to teams that are in our conference.”
Gonzalez said the team is “looking at the table every day” to see what it takes to clinch a spot. It’s becoming increasingly clear that a win Sunday is an important part of any formula that ends with FCD in the playoffs.
While the Dynamo may be coping with a bit of transition without Cabrera, there’s no thought that they might roll over with a chance to win back the El Capitan rivalry trophy.
“We know a rivalry match is always tough. Always, whether it’s in Houston or here, we know they’re not easy. Like we’ve always said, you don’t just play Clasicos, you win them,” winger Michael Barrios said. “We’ve got to get three points. What happens with the rest of the teams that are above us or below us, it’s their problem. If we do that we also leave Houston a bit behind. They’re below us right now, so it’s important to get the win.”
A victory would thrill Gonzalez, who regularly topped the Dynamo as an academy coach but lost his first meeting with the first-team. Ultimately it’s a dream scenario. His team has its goal in sight ahead of a rivalry match in front of his home fans.
“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to do this at home,” he said. “If we could’ve chosen to be in this position early in the season, we would’ve wanted to be a little higher up in a more secure area but we’re mathematically very in it. I know we can catch some teams.
“Every year in the playoff picture this time of year, you’ve got one or two teams that creep in and one or two teams that creep out. We’re very optimistic to fight for being one of those teams to creep in.”
Get the three points Sunday, and the equation still makes sense. Fall to a rival, and Gonzalez’s players may see a side of the 39-year-old that isn’t so nice.
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