FRISCO, Texas — George John was hungry for a taste of playoff soccer. Last Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, the second-year center back was finally satiated as FC Dallas tied Real Salt Lake 1-1 in the Western Conference semifinal second leg.
After missing the first leg with a hamstring injury, John started and played the full 90 minutes as FCD eliminated RSL from the MLS Cup Playoffs 3-2 on aggregate.
“He had a big game for us,” Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman said. “That last 25 minutes, the ball was down on our end of the field maybe 75 percent of the time. There were crosses, second crosses and doubleheaders, a lot of things going on."
FCD spent much of the second half of the season without the service of John or central defensive partner Ugo Ihemelu. John missed five games in September and October with a strained left hamstring, while Ihemelu suffered a concussion on Aug. 8 against the Philadelphia Union and missed the next 10 matches.
[inline_node:322796]“He did a great job throughout the whole game,” FCD captain Daniel Hernandez said of John’s performance. “George and Ugo definitely played a big part [in us holding the lead] because they were throwing a lot of balls their way in the middle of the pitch. There were a lot of air balls that they had to win and knock down. They definitely came up big for us.”
For his part, John was just glad to be back on the field.
“It’s always fun playing in an environment like that where there are a lot of fans,” he said. “We played well. I felt like we held on there at the end. It was a good result for us and we’re going to the next round.”
RSL striker Robbie Findley tallied in the 79th minute, tying the second-leg score at one apiece and cutting FCD's aggregate lead to a single goal.
“Yeah, you could definitely feel the tide turn [after the goal] a little bit,” John said. “It was all about weathering the storm at that point and making it through. I think [the defense] did a good job. Hartman made some huge saves. We held our composure the best we could.”
And for a player who had never seen a single minute of playoff action, a strong performance was that much sweeter.
“It felt weird not being out there in the first leg,” John said. “Mentally and physically, it felt right to be on the field. Nothing went wrong.”