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In many ways, FC Dallas striker Jeff Cunningham’s 2009 season mirrored that of his team. After a very slow start, the veteran forward came into form and finished the year with 17 goals and eight assists to earn Budweiser Golden Boot honors. Cunningham’s team also came within an eyelash of ending a two-year playoff draught before falling at Seattle in their regular season finale to extinguish their chances.

But this is a new year and Cunningham looks to start much better in 2010. He also hopes his team does the same.

Part of his issue one year ago was that FCD also had Kenny Cooper up top and FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman tried to play the two strikers together in a 4-4-2 system, which often didn’t produce favorable results.

Cunningham was in and out of the first 11 and didn’t get his first goal until May 31 at Chicago, the 10th game of the year. But his numbers ballooned after Cooper bolted for Germany late in summer.

“Well, last year I played one game and scored. The next game, I got taken out at halftime and then didn’t really see the field for a good stretch there,” Cunningham said Monday. “A lot of that decision was the formation that the coach went to. Hopefully, as a team, we can start off on a positive note and get the win at home (on Saturday against Houston).

Hyndman will open the year with his team in the 4-1-4-1 structure with Cunningham alone up top

“What we hope to do is get the pressure off of Jeff. It’s enough for him to put internal pressure on himself and he’ll get it externally from the team’s success or by his performance,” Hyndman said Monday. “I think it’s very important that we have a player up front that is a threat to score every time he has the ball.”

Cunningham won’t have Dave van den bergh serving him crosses from the left side this season, nor will he have Atiba Harris doing the same from the right. Brek Shea is the new starter on the left and Marvin Chavez steps in on the other flank.

“It’s important that everyone contributes offensively this season,” Cunningham said. “It’s important for Brek to get the opportunity to step up and make the most of that chance.”

Chavez’s status could be in doubt for the opener, after the Honduran midfielder missed the last several preseason games with a knee injury. He had not returned to practice as of Monday but Hyndman expected him back on the field later this week.

“We’re trying to get him out training with the team. Once that happens, we’ll have a better understanding of where he is,” Hyndman said.