Maynor Figueroa’s 84th minute strike was the match-winning goal on Thursday night at Toyota Stadium as FC Dallas defeated Real Esteli of Nicaragua 2-1 to open play in Group H of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League (CCL).
Figueroa’s goal was his first in CCL play and provided FC Dallas with a winning start to their CCL campaign, a competition that the club has not appeared in since 2011.
Manager Oscar Pareja named a strong starting lineup for the match, with goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez the only non-starter to begin the game for Dallas.
Both sides enjoyed a slow start to the match, possibly due to the high temperature at kickoff, which measured at 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
Forward Michael Barrios had the first goal-scoring chance of the match for the home side inside of 20 minutes, firing a shot from the top of the penalty box that was fumbled onto the post by Real Esteli goalkeeper Justo Lorente.
The visitors were not phased though and looked bright on the counter attack, as Gregorio Torres struck the crossbar with a long distance effort in the 30th minute. Torres’ well placed shot evaded the fingertips of Gonzalez, but did not dip quick enough to sneak under the bar for the game’s opening goal.
Fourteen minutes later the breakthrough would come, although it was Dallas who grabbed the lead just before halftime. Forward Ryan Hollingshead sent a cross on the ground through the Esteli penalty area that was met at the back post by Barrios, who did just enough to help the ball over the line for the opening goal.
Real Esteli were level only three minutes into the second half though via Juan Berdun, who capitalized on a poor defensive mistake by Walker Zimmerman. Berdun, the target of a long ball from Franklin Lopez, was able to dribble towards goal unmarked after Zimmerman mistimed his sliding challenge trying to intercept the pass.
There was still plenty to be done with the finish, as Berdun curled his strike past Gonzalez and off the underside of the bar to equalize.
Forward Maxi Urruti and midfielder Mauro Diaz each had chances to give the lead back to Dallas soon after Berdun’s goal, but Lorente made several good stops to keep El Tren del Norte on level terms.
Mauro Rosales and Tesho Akindele were each introduced by Pareja in hopes of finding a winner for FC Dallas, but it was the Honduran defender Figueroa who came up with the winning goal six minutes from time.
Latching onto a pass from Urruti, FIgueroa stroked his shot from inside the penalty area into the top right corner of goal, allowing Lorente no chance to reach it. The goal capped a fantastic second half from Figueroa, who was all over the pitch.
The goal was also Figueroa’s first for FC Dallas since joining the club this past off season in a trade from the Colorado Rapids.
Victor Ulloa replaced Barrios in the final change of the night for Dallas, who were able to comfortably see out the 2-1 win.
The victory puts FC Dallas in first place in Group H, ahead of Real Esteli and C.D. Suchitepéquez of Guatemala, who have yet to play a CCL match this season.
The next match in Group H will see Suchitepéquez play Real Esteli on August 18th in Guatemala City.