End of the road, last stop: Toronto, and the two teams left on our bus are not who we expected back in March. But Colorado and Dallas have earned the right to be at MLS Cup, both with their play in the regular season and in the playoffs, and here they are.
There’s no David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Thierry Henry, but there is Omar Cummings, Conor Casey, and David Ferreira, and if you’ve been watching all season, that should be enough star power for you. You haven’t been watching all year? Shame on you. It’s got a way to go, but – on the field, at least – MLS has made some strides this season in the caliber of play.
And so, on a cold night in Toronto (well, it’s November 21st, MLS, duh), we crown a new champion.
How else to do so then with a World Soccer Reader running diary:
For Dallas, Jeff Cunningham starts on the bench, which is slightly surprising, as Schelles Hyndman teased putting Cunningham in from the opening kickoff. But eventually he decided the Atiba Harris experiment worked so well that he named an unchanged side. I don’t like it, but I didn’t like anything Hyndman did last week and he won in LA 3-0. So I’ll shut up.
For Colorado, Jamie Smith is healthy enough to start, meaning Wells Thompson goes to the bench. Smith adds a little different dimension to the proceedings, he’s a better attacker than Thompson, but will they need him to defend? We shall see. Otherwise, the usual suspects for the Rapids. You didn’t expect many changes, did you?
(Word coming in that MLS will expand to 10 teams for the playoffs next year with the inclusion of Vancouver and Portland. Seems extremely shortsighted to me, but what do I know?)
Max Bretos is the first voice we hear. Decent career move, methinks. He’s seated with Alexi Lalas and Steve McManaman. Bretos looks frozen, maybe not such a great career move if you consider the weather, I guess. It is warm in Los Angeles.
McManaman says 30 minutes to kickoff. Really? Lalas said some stuff, too, but I tuned him out.
Lostprophets “Rooftops” plays on the BMO Field speakers. Like the Canadians taste in music.
Ian Darke and John Harkes make an interesting duo. Matt Pickens warming up in short sleeves and a big beard. Crazy or stupid?
Rob Stone says it’s 41 degrees, which really isn’t that bad, is it, for late November in Toronto?
Video of Kevin Hartman playing youth soccer. Pretty cool.
The Mounties bring MLS Cup out. Also pretty cool. But would be cooler if they grabbed the microphone and starting signing The Mountie’s WWF theme song.
Stone asks Hyndman about the wind, which should be a much bigger factor than the cold. Good job, Stone.
0:00 – Finally, we’re under way. Dallas going left to right in blue? Colorado somehow had choice of colors.
An early ball from Jair Benitez to Harris gives us an early chance. Not real close, but close enough 20 seconds in.
2:00 – Good camerawork from ESPN as there’s a battle in the corner in the Dallas end. ESPN does do that kind of stuff well.
4:00 – Pablo Mastroeni basically throws Dax McCarty to the ground, but nothing called by our man in the middle, Baltomoro Toledo. At least one of those names is spelled correctly.
5:00 – Harris had a great Carlos Tevez-like workrate against the Galaxy last week, and he seems to be up for it here thus far, chasing effectively the Rapids’ backs.
6:00 – Off a set piece, Kosuke Kimura wasn’t far off of Jamie Smith’s teasing ball. Would be something if Kimura could score in back-to-back games, wouldn’t it?
7:00 – We’re told Drew Moor supports FC Dallas. Does that double their supporters? Thank you, I’ll be here all week.
8:00 – Mastroeni slides in Mullan, who couldn’t quite get enough on his shot to trouble Kevin Hartman. Good movement, though.
Meanwhile, Harris and Moor collide, and Moor lets out a mighty roar, but seems OK. Harris did have studs up. A little.
10:00 – Mastroeni dives and Toledo doesn’t fall for it. It’s little improvements like this that make me believe MLS is slowly on it’s way up.
11:00 – Ball bounces around the Colorado box, but nothing near Pickens in goal. Could have been, though.
12:00 – Casey with a bad tackle on Daniel Hernandez. Not quite Nigel de Jong-like, but looked like his studs were up there. Not much offense either way early on.
14:00 – Mastroeni and Larentowicz having their way in the midfield thus far. We’d expect that, but has to be a little concerning to Hyndman, although I don’t know what he can do about it. Invent players?
15:00 – Larentowicz with a fantastic tackle. He doesn’t look nervous.
16:00 – Harris looks isolated early on, but part of that is the midfield can’t keep the ball long enough to give him decent service.
17:00 – With that being said, not much width from the Rapids right now, Smith and Mullan being pulled in toward the middle. So they have the ball a lot, but can they do something with it?
18:00 – Colorado almost caught on the counter, but Marvell Wynne cuts out a Ferreira pass to Break Shea. Barely.
Then Moor barely gets there on a ball intended for Ferreira. Pickens came out for it, could have been dangerous.
19:00 – Shea goes to the ground in the Colorado box. Replay shows it could have been a penalty. Mullan waited forever to clear the ball, and kicked Shea right in the calf. Odd-looking, but could have been a penalty.
20:00 – Larentowicz and Anthony Wallace shepherd Ferreira off the ball. This is not a recording.
(I secretly want Ian Darke to say “Wallace” Braveheart-style. I know he’s not Scottish, but close enough.)
22:00 – A controversial corner given to Dallas, as it looked like Moor was fouled. Luckily, Dallas goes short and the pass back to Ferreira is offside. Smart by Colorado. My U-11s, however, know not to do that, Mr. MVP.
23:00 – Mastroeni clearly encroaches, but Baldomero Toledo (his name is on the screen, so it’s right this time. I think) decided to take the Howard Webb big-time game approach and book no one.
25:00 – Smith gets down the left side, and his cross is reasonably dangerous. Reasonably.
Meanwhile, good counter by Dallas, but a bad first touch by Marvin Chavez kills the movement. Dallas looks dangerous on the counter.
26:00 – Jackson goes down, couldn’t see how, then takes it out on Smith away from the play. Toledo and his assistants see nothing.
27:00 – Now Casey is down in the box, looked like Benitez might have pulled him down on the replay. He did go down easily, Benitez was on the ground and stuck his leg out and Casey went over it. Hard to see how much contact there was, but I’ve seen them given. Toledo taking the big game approach again. Another replay shows less contact. I think Toledo got it right in the end.
29:00 – Long delay as Jackson takes the slow route off the field, Dallas down to 10 men for the time being.
Meanwhile, Kimura with another good service, but Omar Cummings can’t get enough on the header. Yes, Omar Cummings is on the field, folks.
31:00 - Dallas going direct, Pickens had to head the ball out of bounds. Pressure results in a Dallas corner, which Ferreira finds Ugo Ihemelu, but he couldn’t keep the header down.
33:00 – Jackson back on, but he’s still hobbling, looks like a back problem. He can’t continue, poor guy. Zach Loyd is on for him, Jackson is in tears. Good to see emotion like that in MLS.
34:00 – Twitter talk between Harkes and Darke. #darkeafterdark ?
35:00 – GOAL! Dallas. And it’s a nice goal. David Ferreira, for once, is finishing other people’s work. Benitez with a tremendous switch of play all the way across to Chavez, whose service from the right is brilliant, and Ferreira couldn’t miss from 6 yards out. 1-0 Dallas, and a goal worthy of a final. Who said there’s no quality in MLS?
37:00 – Well, Cummings has been invisible, but nearly equalized out of nothing. Coming from the right, his left-footed drive from a tight angle didn’t miss by much.
38:00 – A little more pressure from Colorado, ball comes across, but Smith can’t quite get on the end of it. Getting closer, the Rapids, but now they trail.
41:00 – Late challenge by Wallace on Benitez brings out our first yellow card of the evening. Well deserved. Toledo doing OK so far, he had to give a card there, it was a really late challenge.
42:00 – Another corner to Dallas, Colorado’s backline suddenly looking shaky, which is not good already down a goal. Poor corner from Ferreira, who really hasn’t had a great match, other than the goal, of course.
44:00 – Colorado doesn’t have a win in their last 50 games (regular season) when trailing at halftime. Decent stat, but they only need one goal to send it to extra time.
Meanwhile, Chavez with a missile from 30 yards out that Pickens barely parries away. Mastroeni was the one caught in possession, and we haven’t really seen Mastroeni and Larentowicz in the last 20 minutes or so. The Rapids need them.
46:00 – Kimura sends a cross in, and Casey and George John knock heads and they both go down. Casey not cut, though, which is disappointing to the violent side of me. John looks the worst for it, Dallas doesn’t have many defenders left on the bench.
Halftime – They’re still talking about the penalty that wasn’t given to Casey, but I think Toledo was OK not giving it. A few seconds of brilliance from Dallas and they’re up 1-0, but that’s how they’ve done it all year. It’s all on the Rapids now to mount a comeback.
46:00 – No changes in the second half, as we expected. Only 1 shot on goal for the Rapids in the first half, we’ll see how they respond. Hernandez with a late challenge on Jamie Smith, looked like it could have been a yellow.
Stone tells us Hernandez has had his knee drained twice this week, including this morning, which is interesting.
48:00 – Darke hasn’t quite got the “The” thing down in front of American team names, calling them Colorado Rapids. We’ll convert him, yet.
50:00 – Dallas defending very deep, very early. They’re obviously set up to counter, as you’d expect, and they have the players to do it. For now, they’re frustrating Colorado in the midfield with numbers.
51:00- Cummings with a mazy run into the box, John makes a nice challenge to poke the ball away.
Meanwhile, Smith – still a little angry- runs down McCarty on the counter and will make his way into Toledo’s book. Deserved it.
53:00 – Corner to Dallas, nothing comes of it, tried to get it to the far post and head it back in. Ferreira has been strangely off on these tonight.
55:00 – Dallas clearly in slow the game down mode. Might be a little early for that.
56:00 – GOAL! Colorado. 1-1. Casey scores from his rear end, Senegal-style from the opening game of the 2002 World Cup. It all started on the left side where Jamie Smith abused Zach Loyd (on for Jackson), Smith played a low ball across, Casey, Hartman, and Benitez got there at the same time, and it fell to Casey, who poked it home.
Similar to the goal he scored to level things against Columbus, but Benitez almost got there.
59:00 – Cummings almost gets on the end of a ball bouncing around the Dallas box, Dallas is reeling now.
But McCarty at the other end hits a low, 30-yard drive off a Colorado clearance. The game is really opening up now, which should make for a fantastic finish.
60:00 – Casey and Hernandez collide after Casey is dispossessed. Pretty sure, Casey committed four fouls in that sequence in 5 seconds or so. That’s impressive.
61:00 – Smith is loose again and he’s pulled down by Hernandez, a free kick in a dangerous spot for Colorado, wide left. Four over the ball for the Rapids, and it went to Larentowicz, who nearly scored. Fantastic save from Hartman (and Darke agrees), who saw it late and just pushed it around the post. Replay makes the save look even better. Well-worked set piece, too. Good stuff.
64:00 – Hernandez tries to be Larentowicz, and that’s never going to work.
Second sub, Jeff Cunningham on for Shea. And he gets booed. That’s funny.
65:00 – McCarty plays in Benitez, whose cross is just cut out by Moor in the middle. Better from Dallas, though.
67:00 – Ihemelu gets a shot in on Casey. Casey is clearly in the heads of the Dallas defense right now, though.
68:00 – Wynne makes a mess of a clearance, but eventually does the job. That’s the type of thing that Cunningham may be able to feast on, though.
69:00 – Casey fouls Chavez, and might have just set a record for most bad challenges in a professional soccer game without a yellow card. Congrats, Mr. Toledo.
70:00 – Hernandez can’t really run, and Dallas only has one sub remaining with extra time looming. Your move, Hyndman.
71:00 – Chavez fouled again, this time Larentowicz. Think Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis are watching this across the pond?
Dallas gets a corner off the ensuing free kick, lots of Dallas bodies there, Chavez couldn’t get a good header on frame, not his strength, I don’t believe.
72:00 – Mastroeni fouls Hernandez and throws the ball away. No card. He does have the card, I’ve seen it. Unless that was an imposter.
73:00 – The free kick bounces around the box, Ferreira hits a blast, Larentowicz blocks and it falls for Chavez, but – for some reason – he doesn’t take it first-time and it’s cleared away. That was a good chance.
75:00 – Wynne can’t judge another header and then in the ensuing scramble, Wynne commits a hard foul on Chavez (complete with Honduran scream). Toledo again doesn’t go to his pocket, but Colorado is playing with fire here with all these set pieces.
76:00 – Pickens punches away and Colorado clears, but Dallas with a lot of pressure right now.
77:00 – Stone says Hernandez will not be removed, and he whacks Cummings from behind, no call.
78:00 – Casey throws John to the ground. Harkes points out it was embellished a little, but if Casey doesn’t get booked in this game, I’ll eat my hat.
80:00 – Colorado can’t keep the ball recently. Haven’t seen any kind of organized attack, Dallas looks better the last few minutes.
81:00 - Mullan goes on a run, but no one with him. Where are Casey and Cummings? Tired?
82:00 – Chavez is down, didn’t see what happened, but he sits up relatively quickly.
83:00 – Loyd, of all people, gets to the end line, cuts it across, but no one is there to tap it in. And that’s all it needed was a tap.
84:00 – And Casey fouls Benitez and gets booked. My hat survives.
85:00 – But Colorado almost didn’t. Ferreira’s cross goes to Cunningham, whose shot is blocked, comes back to Chavez, whose shot is blocked – vitally – by Wallace. That could have been goal-bound. Mastroeni is down, and Toledo stops play, to the consternation of Dallas, who had the ball.
87:00 – Mastroeni limps off, Colorado has yet to sub in this game.
88:00 – Harris looks a little lost wide with Cunningham in the game, but Hyndman only has one sub left.
90:00 – Wells Thompson on for Smith, who did well, but is just about out of gas. Should be a healthy amount of stoppage time. It’s all Dallas right now.
91:00 – Or 2 minutes ?!?!? Really?
Thompson goes right after Hernandez, his first action on the field. No cards given. There was nothing red card-worthy there, but maybe yellows?
92:00 – Julien Baudet comes on for Wallace. Good penalty taker. Not a good defender. We shall see.
93:00 – And Harkes says Baudet is “very good defensively”. I disagree.
Whistle blows, and we’re headed to extra time. Colorado upset because they didn’t get to take the corner kick. Everyone angry at something right now. Hopefully, a 5-minute break will cool everyone off.
And so, we’re on to extra time in Toronto:
92:00 – Hernandez puts his free kick into the box and it again gives the Colorado defense fits. Chavez gets a shot from 20 yards out, but it flies way over the goal.
94:00 – Both teams have one sub left, but we’ll see how they use it. Neither has a great option left on the bench, to be honest.
95:00 – Darke and Harkes are talking women’s soccer. It goes about as well as you’d think.
96:00 – Harris, now with a head wrap, throws something out of play. Some grass, maybe?
97:00 – Poor (and tired) clearance by Dallas leads to another dangerous ball bouncing around the box.
98:00 – Mac Kandji on for Cummings, whom Stone tells us is carrying a slight injury. Colorado is out of subs, and a disappointing night for Cummings, who – if he was on display for someone in Europe tonight – didn’t do much for them, I’m afraid. Of course, earlier in the season, neither Kandji nor Cummings could get into Canada due to visa problems. Thankfully, that’s been worked out.
101:00 – Game has slowed to a crawl. Can someone find the energy to make a chance happen? Or are penalties in our future?
102:00 – Mastroeni tries a long shot. Casey beats up two Dallas defenders trying to get the rebound. No foul, but it is cleared.
104:00 – Almost a decent build-up from the Rapids, but Casey’s return pass to Mastroeni is intercepted by John, who has been solid tonight.
105:00 – Eric Avila (he of the wondergoal against Real Salt Lake) is the game’s final sub, as he comes on for Chavez, who goes off old-school, to the other side of the field. No more subs for either team, so Hernandez is going the distance.
Even though we had two subs, no stoppage time in the first 15 minutes. How do they calculate that stuff? That drives me insane.
Stone talks to Hyndman, who says: a) Avila will score the winning goal; and b) he’s a good penalty taker. Little contradicting there?
106:00 – And the second half of extra time starts the same as the first: boring and plodding.
107:00 – GOAL! Colorado. A hideous one at that. 2-1 Colorado. A long switch to Kandji, he takes on Benitez unsuccessfully, but toepokes it toward the goal, it bounces off John and loops over Hartman, who was caught off-guard by the deflection. Yea, it was as bad as it sounds.
109:00 – Kandji is still on the field, now hobbling off. Dallas is not happy, Hartman comes over, Benitez actually pushes him, and it looked like Kandji took a little swing at him. Ugly.
110:00 – Ferreira sends in a cross, and Harris gets his head to it, but it goes wide.
111:00 – Meanwhile, Kandji has gone to the locker room, so he has a legitimate injury as the Rapids must go the rest of the way with 10 men. Up and out, boys, up and out.
114:00 – Colorado doing a good job killing it off so far. Lots of people in the midfield and Dallas looks very, very tired.
115:00 – Dallas pumping a lot of balls forward and they’ve got a lot of bodies up there, but no one moving, and not many people that can head a ball.
Almost! A long Hartman ball finds Ferreira, who slides it across to Ihemelu, who launches high from 12 yards. Dallas wishes it would have been someone else, but that’s the way it goes.
117:00 – Casey and John clash heads again, this time a bouncing ball. That can’t feel good in 40-degree temperatures. Strange one, the ball was bouncing at the time. Will be interesting to see how much stoppage time, again, there should be plenty.
118:00 – The ball falls to Ferreira, but he couldn’t get much on his shot and Pickens saves easily. Time is running out on Dallas, for sure.
119:00 – Handball called on Moor. Live, it looked like a terrible call (outside the box). No replay. Set piece from near the right corner. Ferreira over the ball.
120:00 – Clearance hacked away by Kimura. Balls sent forward, but repelled just as quickly.
Three minutes of stoppage time.
121:00 – John is robbed by Matt Pickens. Avila tried to get on the ball, bounced away from him, but John hit it hard with his left foot from 12 yards and Pickens went low to make the vital save. Didn’t have much time, and got down in a hurry.
McCarty flicks a header, and it goes onto the roof of the net. Looks like Pickens had that one covered.
Long kick into the box, Avila goes down looking for a penalty on a challenge by Larentowicz. Replay unclear.
123:00 – Cunningham got on the end of a long throw, almost a breakaway, but his left-footed shot has nothing on it and Moor is able to clear. That’s probably it.
And it is. Colorado has won MLS Cup, 2-1. Wasn’t the prettiest of games, but certainly had its excitement, especially at the end.
You wouldn’t say Colorado was markedly better, but you can’t really say they were worse, either.
The Rapids were physical, Casey got the equalizer early in the second half, and then it was probably going to be a fluke goal that won it – and it was.
Colorado, like Real Salt Lake last season, found their way in the playoffs, and takes home MLS’ ultimate prize. Can they build on it like RSL did? We’ll talk to you in a few months.