[MLS CUP] Underdogs in the first two playoff rounds against Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles, FC Dallas is getting some play as the favorite for Sunday’s MLS Cup in Toronto. Yet the explosive Rapids frontline, forecasts of frosty conditions, and a pair of ties during the regular season balance out just about all-square. (TV: Sunday, ESPN/Galavision 8:30 pm ET).
Every final spins its own story, and yet the tale of MLS Cup 2010 is centered on one of two original MLS teams capturing its first league title.
The Rapids reached the 1997 final and lost, 2-1, to D.C. United at RFK Stadium. FC Dallas, formerly known as the Burn, has never made this journey. Their coaches, systems and personnel differ greatly, yet both are enjoying the role of party-crashers to the social event of the year.
“The interesting thing with Colorado is they’re very similar to us,” says FCD coach Schellas Hyndman. “You look at what happened this year; neither team really got the respect from the media or from people in the soccer world to be in the MLS Cup final.”
Both teams also feature potent attacks and dynamic midfields, which is most likely where the game is to be decided. The Dallas five-man array anchored by captain Daniel Hernandez is matched against a straightforward 4-4-2 in which veterans Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz are the linchpins.
“They’re very similar players, in their style and the way they attack,” says Hernandez, like Mastroeni a 34-year-old veteran. “They’re definitely going to be a handful, but I think with our midfielders, I have 100 percent confidence that we can control the midfield.
“It’s not going to be easy, because we know they’re very difficult in that middle. We’ll be able to deal with it if we’re in sync, like we’ve been all season, and not change it. We never change our style of soccer for anybody and we’re not going to be doing it for this last game.”
If FCD can’t intercept or deflect balls played forward by Larentowicz and Mastroeni, it will be in trouble. The Rapids, primarily through Omar Cummings and Brian Mullan, love to attack the corners of the back line, and if they are consistently getting balls in those spaces there will be good chances to score, and lots of them. And not all of them may fall to the out-and-out attackers.
In the most recent meeting, a 2-2 tie at Pizza Hut Park Oct. 12, both teams rallied from a goal down to wind up even. Larentowicz opened the scoring in the 13th minute by punching home a deflected centering pass from Cummings, and struck again six minutes into the second half by heading home a Jamie Smith corner kick. The two goals represented one-half of Larentowicz’s season total.
In between, FCD scored twice 10 minutes apart to take a 2-1 halftime lead. Milton Rodriguez scored for the third straight game, latching onto the rebound of an Atiba Harris header off the crossbar. David Ferreira and Marvin Chavez worked a one-two typical of the team’s combination play, with Ferreira tucking home his eighth goal of the season.
Much has changed since the teams’ first 2010 meeting, a 1-1 tie July 31. The Rapids scored both goals on a Julien Baudet own goal and Medhi Ballouchy penalty kick four minutes later. Colorado starters Ballouchy and Colin Clark have since been traded, and an unused sub that day, Anthony Wallace – formerly of FC Dallas – has since worked his way into the starting lineup at left back.
“Well, the game here I thought Dallas played very well,” said Rapids coach Gary Smith in evaluating the two regular-season meetings. “I'm not sure it suited us massively. It was midday, middle of the summer, something that they were probably more adept to than our group coming from such a warm and humid climate in Dallas.”
“The game at their place was the latter stages of the season. We were certainly in a decent run of form. The climate had cooled off somewhat, and I felt we played as well at their place as they did here. On the day I thought we had opportunities to win the game and maybe even the better of opportunities.”
In the conference final, Hyndman used Harris up top as the lone forward and let Chavez dart up the right wing at every opportunity. Harris’ strength and Chavez’s speed allowed Ferreira to dictate play for much of the game and FCD thumped the Galaxy, 3-0. Colorado controlled much of its conference final against San Jose as well, but squandered numerous opportunities and prevailed, 1-0.
To put more pressure on the opposition, Smith has been labeling FCD the favorite. Yet he also has stated, “All in all, I think we have all the tools needed to beat Dallas. We have individuals that are very capable, very creative, and we also have a group at this point that are extremely spirited and ultra-competitive.”
Though no snow is forecast, temperatures could drop a few degrees below freezing during the match, which kicks off at 8:30 p.m. Smith likes that, too. “We're playing in a climate that I think will suit us,” says Smith. “We're playing on a pitch that I think will suit us. And all in all, they'll have their hands full on the night, there's no doubt about that.”