Inter Milan forward Samuel Eto'o (C) battles for the ball with Dallas defenders Jair Benitez (L) and George John during the first half of their international friendly soccer match in Frisco, Texas, August 5, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

by John Carlton

On a steamy Thursday night at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, FC Dallas scraped a 2-2 draw against UEFA Champions Inter Milan. The Italian giants fielded something akin to their starting lineup with Eto'o, Maicon, Milito and Cambiasso among the superstars on display. Despite an important MLS regular season match against Philadelphia looming, Dallas threw out their own first XI in response. With a nearly sold out crowd in attendance, an extreme rarity for FC Dallas home games, this match had an added importance as a showcase for the organization.

The unveiling of a nine-foot high bronze statue of American soccer pioneer and late FC Dallas owner Lamar Hunt, along with the unfurling of several banners around the stadium recognizing the contributions of FC Dallas players of the past, lent extra gravitas to the proceedings. These are signs that the FC Dallas marketing team is beginning to implement positive strategies to showcase the team to the Metroplex. The ensuing performance by the Hoops did not disappoint.

The first 15 minutes of action belonged to Dallas, as they pushed forward relentlessly in the 100-degree heat looking to open their scoring account. But despite dominating early, it was Inter who struck first when marauding Brazilian fullback Maicon lifted a cross into the six-yard box which found the head of Diego Milito, who blasted the ball into the back of the net in the 24th minute. The crowd, a curious mix of Dallas supporters, neutrals and Inter Milan gawkers roared in admiring approval, and there was a collective sense that things could get ugly for the home side.

The Italians, however, had clearly done their homework. Word came earlier in the week that Inter Milan's new gaffer had requested video of FC Dallas' last two league matches. After the goal, Inter assumed a pat posture, not pushing too far forward in the heat to protect against the potent Dallas counter-attack. In particular, the Dallas midfield maestro, David Ferreira, was given respect and room in the center of the park, as the Inter center halves concentrated on closing down passing lanes. Ferreira received the ball at his feet with regularity and swiveled and turned looking for his dangerous flank players, Brek Shea and Atiba Harris. It was Shea on the left, facing Maicon no less, quite possible the best fullback in the world, who seemed to have the most joy going forward. Repeatedly, Shea found himself in dangerous areas, sometimes running toward the byline, more often drifting centrally to open up space for diminutive Dallas left back Jair Benitez to get down the sideline and look to cross the ball. Throughout the first half, Dallas earned free kicks in dangerous areas, and in the 42nd minute, the Texans finally broke through when defender George John headed home an Eric Avila cross at the back post.

Rafa Benitez made seven changes to start the second half, but left Samuel Eto'o on the field, much to the delight of the fans. In the 64th minute, the world class striker hit a rocket to the far corner of the net from about 25 yards out, pulling the Nerazzuri ahead once more. In the stadium, cameras flashed and camcorders rolled as the Cameroonian goal-scorer's smile lit up North Texas. This marked the first time FC Dallas had faced top-level European competition and what a way to start. The Dallas players were less dazzled, however, and they demonstrated the resiliency that has seen them drop only two league matches all year. Striker Jeff Cunningham came off the bench in the 68th minute and drew a phantom foul from Marco Materazzi six minutes later in the penalty area. David Ferreira walked to the spot and calmly put away the chance and Dallas deservedly drew level.

When the match ended, Inter Milan quickly got off the field while the home team stayed on to applaud the fans and bask in what could be fairly deemed a landmark result. Afterwards, Rafa Benitez called his opponents "sharp", but should be understandably disappointed not to have secured the win.

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