[MLS CUP 2010]Forecasts of rain that could sodden the recently installed grass field at BMO Field added yet another nugget of intrigue as Colorado and FC Dallas finalized their preparations for MLS Cup 2010 to be played Sunday (TV: ESPN, Galavision, 8:30 p.m. ET).
When MLS announced last spring that Toronto would host the 2010 MLS Cup in late November, league officials deflected concerns about weather.
The game is nigh, and so are forecasts of wet, cold, perhaps windy conditions, which the Rapids believe will favor them.
No snow is forecast, as temperatures are supposed to be a few degrees above freezing. Yet gusts off Lake Ontario could push down temperatures enough for a few flurries to fall. Orange adidas balls that have been ordered will likely not be needed, yet a wet surface and cold, sharp winds are always factors.
“All in all, I just think the climate here in general will be similar this time of year to where we're coming from,” said Rapids coach Gary Smith earlier this week. “Of course, it's not to say that they can't adapt to that, but generally we have to deal with, as we are at the moment, something falling out of the sky, it being cooler, possibly some wind, and conditions that are not always just straightforward.”
Conor Casey’s bruising box-play and Omar Cummings’ powerful runs are of greater concern to FCD coach Schellas Hyndman and his players, as is how they can counter Colorado’s efforts to impair the cohesive interplay between league MVP David Ferreira, Marvin Chavez and Atiba Harris. Colorado plays in harsh climes more often than Dallas and confidently dispatched San Jose, 1-0, last weekend in sub-freezing conditions to win the Eastern Conference playoff bracket despite wasting a bunch of chances.
Casey knows Colorado can’t afford another dose of profligacy.
“The key is when we get our chances, we have to finish them,” he said. “That’s going to be the deciding factor. It’s going to be cold and we hear it’s going to be rainy. But it’s cold and rainy in Denver, too, so we’re going to be prepared.”
The Rapids believe their central midfield tandem of Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroenican help contain Ferreira’s range, touch and vision, and other valuable two-way players, such as wide mid Brian Mullan, can do enough to carry the day. Mullan, formerly of Los Angeles, San Jose and Houston, will be playing in his sixth MLS Cup, and helps counter the experience of FCD defender Ugo Ihemelu (2005) and keeper Kevin Hartman (2002, 2005), who in those years won titles with the Galaxy.
Hartman’s incredible work in the playoffs has masked a tendency for FCD’s defense to leak chances, and his reflex saves and flying tip-overs give teammates confidence to ride through periods of dominance by the opposition. That can be risky but is still a great asset.
“A goalie who came come up with those big saves is a game-changer and he’s done that for us,” says FCD midfielder Daniel Hernandez of Hartman. ‘He’s kept us in games and he’s won games for us. Hopefully he can continue his ride and we can continue our ride for one more game. He’s definitely at the top of the list along with David for team MVP for sure.”
The teams have traded jousts of political gamesmanship. Smith has lauded FCD as the favorite while confidently declaring his team has the weapons to win. FCD keeper Dario Sala dredged up some bitter playoff history, claiming Mastroeni provoked a melee during their playoff series in 2006.
Mastroeni ridiculed those claims Friday; some FCD players thought Mastroeni had taunted their fans after scoring the goal that forced a penalty-kick tiebreaker, which went to the Rapids when Mastroeni converted the final kick. By Saturday, the war of words had subsided, with both teams focusing on Sunday rather than yesterdays.
As team captain, Hernandez hasn’t felt the need for inspirational speeches or motivational malarkey. He played three times for New England teams that lost MLS Cups (2002, 2005, 2006) and knows the value of -- despite the pressure and hoopla and stakes – continuity, for coaches and players to stay on message.
“My main message from my experience is just to make sure we focused and concentrated on Colorado,” says Hernandez. “We obviously felt we just beat two of the better teams in the league in LA [3-0] and Salt Lake [3-2 aggregate], so we’re riding on a pretty good high but by no means are we overconfident.
“We know Colorado is playing their best soccer right now and we just have to keep that focus on working and doing all the things that has got us to this point. That’s my main message.”
Though he had hinted early in the week that 35-year-old Jeff Cunninghamcould start for FCD at forward, Hyndman’s thoughts have swung back to Harris, whose sharp, determined runs unhinged the Galaxy back line in the conference final. Yet just as important are the quickness and cleverness added by Chavez, who will start at right mid if Harris goes up top.
Chavez’s incessant buzzing about the goalmouth can be just as infuriating to defenders as Harris’ rugged runs.
“I call him the “Little Mosquito,” because he’s so little and he’s so irritating, like a mosquito is,” says Hyndman. “That’s the way he is on the field. Every opponent who gets the ball is nervous when Marvin Chavez is around, because he’s so quick, so competitive and so courageous. I think he’s been outstanding these last four to six weeks.”
Chavez had recovered from a string of injuries to take the left mid spot in October when a national team callup and one-game suspension temporarily took Brek Shea out of the lineup. With Shea back in his spot, Hyndman moved Harris to the right side, where he can cut open the back line or stretch it out of shape.
Shea is still young (20) and raw yet has shown a knack for getting into the right places, as he did to chest down a ball and set up a goal for Dax McCartyagainst RSL. He could also be an effective weapon on set plays; on the other hand, the Rapids will certainly adapt their play to test his defensive abilities.
Hernandez acknowledges that Colorado’s game plan includes tough and close attention to Ferreira, but of the man named league MVP Friday, he states simply, “He’s played every single game for us, people tend to forget that, and to play at such a high level every game is amazing.
“Every team knows what a great player he is, but he finds those spaces, he finds his ways to get the ball, and make space for himself. He only needs an inch or a second to make a crucial pass. I don’t know what else to say. He’s been unbelievable all year.”