[MLS WHAT TO WATCH] No one was too surprised this week when Schellas Hyndman, coach of last year's MLS runner-up FC Dallas, said his team was "disjointed" heading into its MLS Cup rematch against Colorado Friday (9 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel) at Pizza Hut Park. FCD (0-2-1) certainly is that.
If it can be difficult to improve a poor team, revamping a good team may be even harder, and much riskier. Hyndman has attempted the feat by jettisoning veterans Heath Pearce, Dax McCarty, Jeff Cunningham and Atiba Harris – among others – from last year’s squad, the first to reach an MLS Cup in team history. It fell to Colorado in overtime last November on an own goal after playing a stylish, dynamic brand of soccer that many observers cited as the league’s most attractive.
None of the changes have yet worked out. FCD has scored just one goal in three games. Brek Shea’s pairing with George John at center back, which shifted Ugo Ihemelu to right back, has been good and bad. John gave away a penalty kick in the 2-0 loss to Columbus last week; FCD had to play a man down after Jackson Goncalves received his second caution in the 33rd minute.
Colorado, on the other hand, hasn’t gained much respect from its 2010 accomplishments despite a strong start (3-0-0). That record is tempered by the fact Colorado has rolled over Portland (3-1), Chivas USA (1-0) and D.C. United (4-1) to climb atop the overall standings. Those teams are a combined 1-6-2.
Maybe there’s a hangover from Colorado’s seemingly improbable run to the title last year. Yes, the Rapids did finish tied with San Jose for the last two playoff spots and got the No. 7 slot on a tiebreaker. Maybe they were painted as villains and ogres for ousting MVP David Ferreira and perhaps the feel-good poster boy of 2010, keeper Kevin Hartman.
But they were hardly some lowly, sub-.500, cave-dwellers who wriggled out squinting into the sunlight; they finished with a record of 12-8-10 (46 points), a much better record than the bottom-rung teams in 2009 (RSL, 40 points) and 2008 (New York, 39 pts.) that also reached the finale.
Colorado’s attack will be hobbled against FCD; a hamstring strain will keep Conor Casey out of the game, and Macoumba Kandji is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in MLS Cup. Irish striker Caleb Folan scored his first two MLS goals in the D.C. United game and could be a real threat against FCD’s center backs if they aren’t in sync.
In their next two games the Rapids can prove their championship medals were deserved, and their winning mettle persists. After FCD, they head to Salt Lake City for a Rocky Mountain Revival against RSL next Wednesday.
As for FCD, this is only the fourth of 34 league matches, and its strength down the spine – Ferreira, Hartman, midfielder Daniel Hernandez – is intact. There is no better setting to re-establish elite status than at home against the team that destroyed the dream.