Photo by ISIphotos.com
By TRAVIS CLARK
Several players on the FC Dallas roster have stepped up in 2010, playing big roles in the team's resurgence. The improvement has been triggered by the emergence of Brek Shea on the left, David Ferreira on attack, and the composure of Daniel Hernandez in a defensive midfield role. But one underlying component to it all has been the veteran presence and performances of 36-year-old goalie Kevin Hartman.
Take last Saturday's 3-1 win over D.C. United as the most recent example. During the game's opening 30 minutes, Dallas had its back against the wall, unable to hold possession and under threat from a desperate United side.
Each time he was challenged, Hartman answered the call. He then bailed out his team after a sloppy turnover handed United's Danny Allsopp a breakaway opportunity. Just two minutes later, David Ferreira opened the scoring off an excellent team move en route to a Dallas win, extending their unbeaten run to 10 games.
That stretch is a microcosm of Hartman's season in Dallas since assuming the starting job back in May.
"He’s having an MVP season," Hyndman said, enthusiastic in his praise for Hartman after Saturday's win. "He came into goal maybe the second or third game of the year and he’s been very, very good."
Hartman joined Dallas prior to the start of the season after three years in Kansas City after contract negotiations stalled out. Initially signed as a back up to Dario Sala, Hartman made his FCD debut in a U.S. Open Cup play-in match in April, looking understandably rusty on the way to conceding four goals in a 4-2 loss to D.C. United.
However, since starting his first league match against Houston on May 8, Hartman has been excellent, and his numbers are among the best in the league. He's posted five shutouts in 15 starts, a goals against average of 0.73, made 45 saves, and has yet to concede more than one goal in a league match.
Most importantly, Dallas has posted a record of 8-1-6 in his starts. Quite the contrast from last season, when the club finished the season tied for the second-worst mark in the league in goals conceded.
"Look at where we were last year and look at where we are this year in points, and also the number of goals we’ve scored and the number of goals we’ve given up," Hyndman said. "We were on a great run scoring goals last year, but we gave up a lot of goals. I think what has happened is Kevin now is a player that is making a difference. Now instead of giving up one or two goals, we're giving now "
And it hasn't been Hartman doing that alone. Defensively, George John and Ugo Ihemelu (who missed Saturday's game with an injury) have offered up a solid defensive partnership, and Daniel Hernandez doing the dirty work in the defensive midfield.
But Hartman is a central figure in their play, by communicating with players along the back line, helping them with their positioning so they are in the right place to make a play.
"He makes the defense play better," Hyndman said. "The one thing a lot of people don’t realize he’s doing for us is he’s a great communicator, giving people direction. We’re more organized — I don't think we had that communication in the past."
The organization helps especially when regulars in defense like Ihemelu are forced to sit out. Rookie Zach Loyd started in the middle against D.C. United, and Hartman believes that instances like that will help the team out in the long run.
"These small introductions of guys into the team has really allowed us to learn about the intricacies of each guy's game and really allow us to be collectively be good," Hartman said.
For now, the biggest challenge in the immediate future is for Hartman to maintain his current form, as Dallas aims to finish strong and secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2006.