[MLS] Playing a special MLS Cup edition of “Jeopardy!”, the answer is:
“Fast, powerful Jamaican product of college soccer who rose up from the MLS reserves to his national team, and might end his current stay in American soccer with a league championship and move to a foreign club.”
The correct question is, “Who is Omar Cummings?”
Right now, he’s a key element in Colorado’s quest for its first MLS Cup, to be decided Sunday (TV: ESPN2, Galavision, 8:30 p.m. ET) against FC Dallas at BMO Field in Toronto. By next month, he could be packed up and gone, bound for a European, Mexican or Central American club enticed by a player imbued with size, strength, speed and a lust for goals.
“We nearly lost him in the summer window and we sat down with Omar and talked about that possibility with him,” says Paul Bravo, technical director of the Rapids. “Given how well he’s done down the stretch, to be quite honest, I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ll do our best to keep him around but if there’s an opportunity for the kid that’s good for both, we’ll look at that as well. A lot can happen once that window opens.”
As a hedge, Colorado acquired Macoumba Kandji from the Red Bulls just prior to the Sept. 15 trade deadline. Cummings hasn’t seemed distracted during the Rapids’ playoff run though he has yet to net. He leads the league in postseason shots (13) and has registered two assists, one of which enabled Conor Casey to score a vital late goal that knotted up the conference semifinals series with Columbus at 2-2.
By prevailing on penalty kicks, 5-4, Colorado advanced to the conference final, in which Cummings again helped decide the match, this time without actually touching the ball. He barreled into the Quakes goalmouth and his lunge-and-miss so distracted keeper Jon Busch that Kosuke Kimura’s curving ball snuck into the net for the only goal of the Eastern Conference final.
Cummings also hit the crossbar and failed to put away two other chances that might have iced the game, but still he’ll be closely monitored on Sunday, as will his forward partner.
“I think they have arguably the best two strikers in the league with Casey and Omar,” said FCD coach Schellas Hyndman in a teleconference call Monday. “One is big, strong, and very, very courageous, Conor Casey has the first-to-the-ball mentality on head balls. Omar Cummings is one of the fastest and most powerful players in the league.”
Scoring goals consistently is reason enough for a team to snap him up, yet Cummings is also a wonder to watch. He plows through tacklers or races by them, angles sharply between defenders on the dribble or in pursuit of a through ball, and crashes the far post for crosses. He can score the spectacular: in September, he blasted home a goal for Jamaica from outside the penalty area in a friendly against Peru, and a few days later nailed a strike from more than 30 yards at Red Bull Arena.
That ability to score from distance adds yet another variable to the Colorado attack. Casey (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) is a monster in the air as well as on the ground, yet Cummings (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) is nearly the same weight and strong enough to jar defenders off stride. They are different yet about as complementary as a pair of forwards can be.
“I think that it's a lot how we play,” says Cummings of how their strengths can test FCD. “Whether we're going to put the ball on the ground and try to move it or whether we're going to be putting balls in the air where a player like [George] John could just pick them off in the air and head them out.
“I think a key would be for us as players or as a team, the way we play, to move the ball quickly, to make runs off the ball and give them some trouble.”
The partnership of Casey and Cummings has occasionally been disrupted the past two seasons. At times, Gary Smith elected to play Cummings on the right side of midfield. Those experiments have been curtailed. Casey’s rugged, robust challenges tie up defenders and open up space, which Cummings exploits with dribbles and short, sharp passes. They combined during the regular season for 27 goals and nine assists. Last year, they rang up 24 goals and 13 assists.
Unfortunately for Rapids fans, the best time for the club to sell Cummings is now. He signed a four-year deal prior to the 2009 season and with two years of that deal remaining, he can command a decent transfer fee. His 14 goals this past MLS season are a career best, and nudged Casey for the team lead by a goal. Last year, he led the team in assists with 12 while also scoring eight goals.
Smith believes the bond between Casey and Cummings and their consistent scoring are emblematic of a team-wide cohesion that has carried it to the brink of a title.
“I think form is confidence,” said Smith. “It's confidence not only in your own game, but it's confidence in your teammates, as well, and building those relationships and that rapport within the group, just having that understanding.
“Omar is sitting in front of me here, but the understanding with Conor has moved forward from even last year where they were very, very productive, and they just look like they're on the same wavelength.”
Only four seasons after Cummings left the University of Cincinnati via the SuperDraft (third round, 31st overall pick), his current stint in MLS could be about to end with a glorious title or bitter disappointment.
His focus isn’t blurred by next week or next month, nor the opposition deployed to stop him on Sunday.
“Well, I think they have some good guys back there,” he said of the FCD defense. “They have speed. They have strength, and they're very aggressive when they do play. But again, I think we have to focus on us, us as a team, us as an attacking lineup, and that's all I'm worried about. I'm not worried about their defense.”