If this is the first preview you’ve read about MLS Cup, we certainly thank you, but I’m not that naive. The Colorado-Dallas matchup has been analyzed and reanalyzed by everyone in the American (and Canadian) soccer world with a blog.
So, what’s different about this preview? Quite possibly, not much. However, regular readers of World Soccer Reader know that we’ve been with you for the entire MLS season, therefore we owe you a preview. And you just may learn a little bit in the process, too.
It’s not exactly a marquee matchup for the league; there’s no New York, no Los Angeles, no DC United, not even a Seattle. But you’ve got two worthy teams, one of which will be a worthy champion on a chilly Sunday night north of the border (I’m assuming Mac Kandji, Omar Cummings, etc. were actually allowed into Canada). We’ve got some interesting tactical matchups, some interesting players to keep an eye on, it really should be a good game. Seriously, folks.
Who will be standing at the end with the cup? Let’s find out:
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Well, you can’t say that they didn’t earn their trip to Toronto. Going into the Western Conference playoffs as the third seed, Dallas has had to go through Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles – the league’s two best teams in the regular season – to get to the finals.
Essentially, they did both on the road as well, although technically they didn’t win at Rio Tinto, they still got a result, and then they took the Galaxy apart last week at the Home Depot Center. We shouldn’t be that surprised, but somehow, we still are.
Ironically, we’re probably less surprised that the Rapids made their way through the weaker Eastern Conference playoffs. They were really fortunate to beat Columbus in the conference semifinals, down a goal late and seemingly headed out, Conor Casey sneaked in with a near post run to level the match and Colorado won it on penalties.
That gave them a home game (after San Jose’s upset of New York) in the conference finals, and they picked up a relatively uninspired, yet effective 1-0 win to put them into MLS Cup. It’s no fluke that they’re here, though, certainly.
REGULAR SEASON MATCHUPS
Colorado 1-1 Dallas, July 31
Dallas 2-2 Colorado, October 9
KEY PLAYER (OBVIOUS)
David Ferreira – I guess you have to put the league MVP here, don’t you? You saw him at his best in the conference semifinal, on the ball a lot. When he’s able to run at defenses, his passing is simply brilliant. Last week, I called it Cesc Fabregas-like, which is high praise, but he’s able to find spaces to put passes in that other players just dream of. A guy like Brek Shea is starting to learn that and make runs accordingly. In retrospect, you wonder how much better a player Ferreira makes a guy like Shea, maybe the USSF should hire Ferreira to practice with their youth national teams or something.
Omar Cummings – He has not been spectacular in the playoffs, although he has had a couple of assists, and has not exactly been invisible. But if you just took the second half of the season into play, Cummings would probably be the MVP, scoring at will, a few of them (unlike a Mr. Wondolowski) with very little help from his friends. A goal like that would obviously change things, and as good as Anthony Wallace and conference finals hero Kosuke Kimura have been solid in the postseason, you have to like Cummings’ chances 1v1 against either of them.
KEY PLAYER (NOT SO OBVIOUS)
Jeff Cunningham – And Cunningham returns to the site of one of his 45 former home stadiums for the final. Oddly, he didn’t feature at all in the Western Conference final, as Schellas Hyndman pulled off what turned out to be a move of tactical genius, playing Atiba Harris as a lone striker up top. It would take some guts to change it, but he’s hinted at it, and I think it would be the right move. Cunningham, for one game, can still get it done, and if someone like Ferreira can give him the chance, he probably won’t waste it.
Jeff Larentowicz – Part of the reason that the Rapids are here are a couple of lopsided trades in the offseason, one bringing Larentowicz (and Wells Thompson) to New England. Larentowicz does his job game in and game out, doesn’t get many goals, but much of Colorado’s defensive success has to do with his consistent play in the middle. It’s a job he was born to do, I think. His job will be even more important with Ferreira involved, he will be in charge of not giving the MVP time and space to pick people out in the middle. Larentowicz also scored both goals in a 2-2 tie at Pizza Hut Park last month.
KEY PLAYER (SUBTLE)
George John – He’s not exactly a household name, even by MLS standards, but – dare I say – he’s been brilliant in the postseason. Obviously, he’ll have his hands full with what Colorado has to offer up front, but he’s grown into his role as a leader in the back and is playing with a lot of confidence right now. Kevin Hartman gets, and deserves, a lot of credit for the run his team is on, but John has been an integral part as well in front of him.
Julien Baudet – Yea, we’re digging deep here, but Gary Smith has shown a propensity for bringing Baudet on as a late sub, and if the game goes into extra time, that means Baudet – a liability for most of the season – will be on the field for a fairly long time. He has experience, but he also makes mistakes, and I don’t have to tell you what a mistake in extra time will result in. On the plus side, he seems like an excellent penalty taker if it comes to it.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Number of goals each team scored against each other this season, meaning that maybe – just maybe – we’ll see an extremely open, exciting game. Both teams, with the attacking players they have, are certainly capable of it, but it may take an early goal or two to open things up. We can hope.
It looks like most people are leaning toward Dallas, probably rightfully so, but I don’t think this is a bad matchup at all for Colorado. They have Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni to try to limit the damage David Ferreira can do in the middle, they have size up front in Casey, and they have a defense that is playing with confidence (Drew Moor was outstanding in the conference finals).
Dallas has the better track record in the regular season, and is coming off one of the most impressive performances in recent memory, but I don’t think it’s that big a gap in talent between the two sides. I actually expect there will be some goals, Cunningham and Cummings are due to get one each, and then we’ll see from there. But I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to see a very good, entertaining final.
Colorado 2, Dallas 2 (Rapids win 4-3 on PK) – Baudet buries the clincher as Colorado brings MLS Cup back to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.