Well it is Cup day for MLS fans, and while the glamor teams (Los Angeles and New York) with fancy DP's will be watching the match instead of playing in it. I am still excited for the match, the only thing that could have gotten me more excited would have been Real Salt Lake being their to defend their title. This will be a match between two teams very much built around how their coaches envision the game being played, and two teams with a much more workman like roster than many teams.
FC Dallas has built their team with an influx of youth and some very talented foreign players, their success this year caught many by surprise but given the way they finished 2009. I thought they would challenge for a playoff spot, but in no world did I think they would lose just 4 matches all season and set a MLS record for fewest losses. I did think that for them to be successful that David Ferreira would need to step up and did he, not only has he lead his team to MLS Cup, he even picked up the MLS MVP Award this week. It will be interesting to see how he does on the biggest stage in MLS and if that gets him a permanent deal with the team.
What to say about Colorado? It is funny that I hear from friends in Toronto that even their the attention of most Rapids fans is focused on RSL rather than Dallas or the Cup, but that has been the case for the last 4 years of their history. Perhaps this run will allow them to have a little self and team pride focused on what they do rather than trying to live off a rivalry they created and now find themselves on the losing end of. OK, enough of a dig on the fans of Colorado and on to the team. The Rapids had perhaps the easiest path to MLS Cup, they faced and beat a struggling Columbus side and then got to play host to San Jose in the Eastern Conference final. That match was packed with energy and a great crowd despite the miserable weather conditions, and could be a real indicator on how the Rapids will deal with the pressure of their second MLS Cup final appearance.
more after the jump:
For me the key to Dallas will be the play of Kevin Hartman, who let's face facts is really the biggest reason why FC Dallas find itself in this match. He was simply amazing for most of the season, once he took over for Dario Sala in goal and in the playoffs we saw him left that to a whole other level. He made some of the most incredible saves of the year in the second half of leg two of the series with RSL and in the match against LA he keep the clean sheet despite some quality efforts. He will of course get help from his defensive players and for me it is the outside backs for FC Dallas that pose an interesting dilemma, they both push forward with almost reckless abandon when the chance presents itself and that often leaves the team open to counter attacks but with Daniel Hernandez and Dax McCarty protecting the midfield they have been successful with the tactic.
Another key to the Dallas success all year long has been the ability to get a goal, only 4 times this year did a team hold them scoreless and even in those matches they only lost 2 ( 0-1 against LA and 0-2 at RSL). When you combine this number with the fact that no team all year scored more than 2 goals against them, it becomes clear that they are a force to be reckoned with. While everyone may tell you to watch David Ferreira, and you should, I think as much attention should be paid to Brek Shea. This year he had 5 goals and 4 assists in the regular season, but 3 of the goals and 2 of the assists were game winners, and that means he is productive with the match on the line. His physical size poses a real challenge for opposing midfielders and he seems to have a bit of "streak" in him that gets into the head of his opponents.
The Colorado Rapids have more in common with FC Dallas than some realize, neither have won the Cup before and both felt the sting of losing out on the playoffs last year in their final match of 2009. Both teams play in newer stadiums and both have really struggled to get attention in their local markets both from the media and from sports fans. I believe that is going to change for both teams with this appearance in Toronto. All year long the Rapids have been about a stingy defense (5th best in MLS) and the "C&C Goal Machine". No forward combo creates more danger than do Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, they combined for 27 goals and 9 assists in the regular season and are the major reason why they were second in scoring to RSL, as well as the reason that they were only shutout 5 times all season.
Their defensive efforts really start in the midfield and while many always point to Pablo as the grit of their lineup it has been the new guy, "Big Red" Jeff Larentowicz that has been the difference maker. He has brought a strong physical presence to their midfield that I believe they have been lacking for a few years (since the departure of Kyle Beckerman?). If you look beyond his "billy goat" appearance you find that Matt Pickens is a quality keeper with a good 1.10 GAA, only twice in 2010 did the Rapids give up more than 2 goals in a match and while not as many clean sheets came their way as some teams (they had 8). Their defensive performance has improved in the post season, where they have allowed just one goal while scoring 4.
As a RSL fan it is impossible for me to cheer for the Rapids, as a blogger I see that a vast majority of people out there are giving the Rapids little chance in this one, but I can't count them out. My brain and heart both tell me to chose FC Dallas in a 3-1 win and that is what I am going with, but this is MLS Cup and anything can happen. With almost all MLS matches the key is scoring first and either side is capable of an early goal, 18 times this year Colorado scored in the first 30 minutes of a match, to just 13 in the first 30 for Dallas. Dallas has 19 goals in the final 30 minutes of matches and Colorado has 15 to end matches. This means it should be an action packed match and hopefully RSL fans will be able to remind Colorado that they are 0-2 in MLS Cups, while we are 1-0.
OFF MY SOAPBOX