FRISCO, Texas – Over the second half of the regular season, Jeff Cunningham made a habit of two things: scoring off the bench for FC Dallas and avoiding the media.
But on the heels of another crucial on-call tally in FCD’s 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals last Saturday, Cunningham made the rare exception on Monday and met the Dallas media to talk about his return to the postseason and his team’s chances going forward.
Cunningham’s fifth career postseason goal came off a scramble in the 44th minute, when he pounced on a loose ball in the RSL box and slotted it past Nick Rimando to pull FC Dallas even at 1-1 heading into the break.
The Hoops went on to win the game on Eric Avila’s late goal to carry an important edge into the series finale this Saturday (10 p.m. ET, FSC).
[inline_node:321431]“I wasn’t expecting to be part of the game so early,” Cunningham said Monday. “I’m just happy I was able to contribute. It’s one of those striker’s goals where things happen. I had the ball at my feet with the goalie to beat six yards out.”
Cunningham came on for Colombian striker Milton Rodríguez, who suffered a groin injury in the first half and had to be subbed off. It was the first postseason action in five years for Cunningham, who last appeared in the playoffs with the Colorado Rapids in 2005.
“It was an important goal for the team,” Cunningham said. “I thought it was very timely. Being 1-1 at half, it forced them to compete in the second half rather than sitting back. I thought we played well in the second half and we deserved the result.”
Cunningham’s playing with his third team since then (Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas), but this is easily the best chance he’d had at a postseason run in half a decade.
“Yeah, it’s been a while for me," he said. "That’s why I try to remind the younger players to have no regrets. You don’t want to look back 10 years from now and say, 'What if?’ I know what it’s like to not have been there for a while. It’s important for me to do all I can to help the team.”
And it was especially sweet for Cunningham’s goal to come against Real Salt Lake, his former team from 2006 to 2007 and the team that some consider the favorite to win the MLS Cup.
“I know LA won the Supporters’ Shield, but I thought Real was the best team throughout the season," he said. They’re a very difficult team to beat. They haven’t lost at home. So, all the pressure’s on them really. They have to produce at home. We know what we need to do. They’re a good team, very organized and well coached.”