Soccer-Lite MLS Cup Saved by Spectacular Climax

By Paul Gardner

Quite a game. And there'll be plenty of differing opinions about exactly what sort of a game the MLS Cup was. Conor Casey, voted the game’s MVP (presumably for scoring a goal while sitting on his ass) told us “it wasn’t the prettiest game.” Minutes later, an overheated Alexi Lalas said "for me, it was the most physical MLS Cup in history" - and he meant that as praise.

Casey comes closer to the truth - this was more of a battle than a soccer game that was simply physical. Dallas wanted to play some stylish soccer -- and in the first half had some success doing that. Though not too much.

The Colorado game plan -- and anyone who didn’t work this out before the game can go straight to the bottom of the class -- was to disrupt the Dallas passing game.

The Rapids were, by and large successful -- though it needs saying that they were greatly helped by an inept performance from Dallas forward Atiba Harris, who -- with a poor first touch and sloppy passing -- was responsible for far too many breakdowns in the Dallas game.

I would have to question Schellas Hyndman big time on that. After Dallas had murdered the Galaxy in the previous game, Hyndman stepped in to claim a big share of the credit, claiming that his decision to play Harris at forward had upset the Galaxy. It never looked like a sensible comment, but Hyndman obviously believed what he was saying -- to the point of again playing Harris up front in this game. By halftime, it was surely obvious that this wasn’t working -- but Harris stayed on for the whole game.

So Colorado, with Harris as their Fifth Columnist, forced Dallas to play a much more physical, hard running, long-passing game. That’s what the game came down to -- and Colorado is better at that sort of thing.

In the end, Colorado won on a lucky break. OK -- you need breaks like George John’s own goal to win tight games like this -- it’s hardly a criticism of Colorado. Maybe they felt they deserved it, because they believed that Casey should have had a penalty kick in the first half when he was manhandled by Jair Benitez.

Yes, I think they should. Referee Baldomero Toledo thought otherwise -- and his decision was a reflection of his lenient approach throughout. Someone should do a study of refereeing in final games. We saw the problems magnified enormously in this year’s World Cup final when Howard Webb was presented with an impossible task of maintaining discipline while trying to keep 22 players on the field in order not to ruin the final.

By allowing all sorts of vigorous challenges, and keeping his cards in his pocket, Toledo tended to favor Colorado’s play -- but it worked against them on the PK decision -- because the incident started with a foul by Casey on Benitez, which Toledo did not call -- making it very difficult for him to call the subsequent penalty.

As to Colorado’s “luck” -- the game seemed to be heading for a shootout anyway, and the winner in a shootout is always going to be, in my view a “lucky winner.” So, while I feel for John, I don’t see any reason to belittle Colorado’s win.

For Colorado, it wasn’t the much-touted Omar Cummings-Casey duo who won the game (though Casey was his usual rough-house self, repeatedly -- and sometimes dangerously -- colliding with opponents), it was rather a sweating, teeth-gritting, hard-tackling midfield -- Jeff Larentowicz, Pablo Mastroeni, Jamie Smith and Brian Mullan. Work-wise they performed wonders. Soccer-wise ... don’t ask.

For Dallas, Marvin Chavez and David Ferreira combined smoothly to give Ferreira a superb opening goal. But even that move came after a long ball forward from Benitez. One is left with the impression that Dallas’s idea, far too often, was to bypass the midfield, which Colorado was determined to turn into a no-go area. Which was an enormous shame -- and a mistake -- for it greatly limited David Ferreira’s contribution.

And despite all the talk about Kevin Hartman, if he was a key player in this game, it was in a negative way, because of his failure to get more quickly to Smith’s low cross that Casey turned into the tying goal.

You can tell, no doubt, that this was not my type of game. But what happened at the end transformed a rather rugged and ragged affair into 15 minutes or so of intense excitement -- this must be what Lalas was praising -- for this was surely the most exciting climax ever to an MLS Cup.

It happened that way because Dallas, now a goal down with time running out, had to abandon any thought of caution. Or any notion of clever tactics, come to that. Now we had players with just one overwhelming thought on their minds -- goalscoring! So Dallas simply laid siege to the Colorado penalty area -- a siege that was given extra menace by the fact that Colorado was playing with only 10 men, having used up all its subs before Macoumba Kandji injured himself while provoking the winning goal.

Ferreira’s goal and those final 15 minutes are going to be what gets remembered -- there was little else particularly noteworthy in this game, if you exclude the blood, sweat and toil -- qualities that, frankly, become a bit of a bore after a while.

But what comes last is usually what gets remembered first -- that frenetic, chaotic, frantic maelstrom of activity around the Colorado goal, the blocked shots, and Matt Pickens’ diving to just get his hand to a shot from the unfortunate own-goal scorer George John, and Dax McCarty’s flicked header that seemed to be in the air forever until it just cleared the bar -- those breath-halting moments played out against a relentlessly ticking clock are what the 2010 MLS Cup will be remembered for.

A great night for Colorado, then, but not such a great night for soccer. The sport suffered here -- and Colorado’s contribution to that sad fact represents the darker side of their win.

22 comments about "Soccer-Lite MLS Cup Saved by Spectacular Climax".
  1. Gus Keri, November 22, 2010 at 8:29 a.m.

    I don't like to say "I told you so", but I did.

  2. Kerry Ogden, November 22, 2010 at 8:35 a.m.

    I'm not a fan of either team but I'd have to say that Conor Casey played like an idiot! This game reminded me of the Final World Cup game against Spain & the Netherlands, FC Dallas being Spain & Colorado being the Netherlands except with a different ending. If you can't beat them with skill beat them with a physical game, I guess?

  3. Ian Plenderleith, November 22, 2010 at 8:39 a.m.

    The referee certainly has to take some blame for the game's poor quality. If you let players get away with fouls, they keep on fouling. And they did.

  4. Kent James, November 22, 2010 at 8:40 a.m.

    Lenient does not begin to describe Toledo's approach to the game. While I appreciate a referee allowing a game to flow, when a player is being mugged for and extended period, just because he doesn't lose the ball doesn't mean a foul shouldn't be called. And this idea of not using cards in a final is ridiculous. It leads to the final we had; players being more concerned about stopping their opponents (by fair means or foul) than with playing the beautiful game.
    Unfortunately, the final was not a beautiful game as each team struggled to string even a few passes together. The Dallas goal was a work of beauty, and the last 10 minutes or so was very exciting, and although I did not care going in who would win, I found myself hoping Dallas would pull it out given Colorado's more cynical approach to the game. But I'd actually rather watch a good soccer game than a slugfest, so please, next time, call fouls and give cards where appropriate so that people who want to play soccer can actually do so.

  5. Rick Figueiredo, November 22, 2010 at 9:03 a.m.

    Nice game actually. Not your UEFA Cup Finals but entertaining. All three goals due to goalie error. Last 10 minutes of OT very exciting.

    MLS is still what it has been for the last 10 years. Watchable sometimes.

  6. Gerald Laing, November 22, 2010 at 9:27 a.m.

    The MLS has improved in so many ways. It is a shame that this was the Final they got. Remember MLS Cup I, a far better affair. Now the league is going to add 2 more teams into the playoff which will add more mediocre teams with a chance to play in the MLS Cup. So plan on more finals like this.

  7. Brian Something, November 22, 2010 at 9:46 a.m.

    Dallas was hugely disappointing. They completely abandoned their style of play that was so successful previously. The physical, long ball style is not their style... ironic since Colorado played the ball on the ground more than Dallas!
    Toledo (with Salazar) is the best ref in the league and usually calls the game tight; the usual criticism of him is that he calls it TOO tight. If there’s anyone I would’ve wanted to ref a physical game, it was him. Unfortunately, Toledo had a very disappointing game. I think he fell into the trap that Webb and others who officiate big games by believing that they don’t want to “influence” the game by calling fouls. They don’t seem to realize that not blowing the whistle influences the game as much, if not more so, than blowing it.

  8. Ron Crowley, November 22, 2010 at 9:50 a.m.

    Paul Gardener got it exactly right on all counts. Well done!

  9. Tom Symonds, November 22, 2010 at 10:53 a.m.

    The best team in the league is the Supporters Shield winner (LA Galaxy). The best tournament club in the country is the US Open Cup winner (Seattle Sounders FC). What is Colorado? Finishing tops of the table after 30 matches (Supporters Shield) has meaning. Finishing tops in a tournament open to every club in the country (US Open Cup) has meaning. Finishing tops in a group of eight tournament (MLS Cup) is only artificially meaningful.

  10. Gus Keri, November 22, 2010 at 11:48 a.m.

    Tom: Like the English season, we have three trophies every season; The Supporters' Shield (the equivalent of EPL Championship), The US Open Cup (the equivalent of the FA Cup), and The MLS Cup (in place of the League Cup). The difference is the league considers the MLS Cup winners more important than the Supporters' Shield and the Open Cup. While in England the league Cup is less important than the other two. How about if we, as supporters, started valuing the Supporters' Shild champion higher than the MLS Cup winners, can we influence how the league prioratize their trophies?

  11. Tom Symonds, November 22, 2010 at 11:59 a.m.'re spot on. I value the SS and USOC. If MLS Cup was to be an equivalent of the League Cup, then it should involve all the league teams. MLS, I believe, doesn't view the MLS Cup as a type of League Cup, but it sees MLS Cup as the "true" champion of MLS. Balderdash! However, the American public is psyched on playoffs so, voila!, we have MLS Cup. I think MLS has made some strategic blunders in advancing the sport (SSS in the 'burbs is the most damaging mistake in my mind) and creating a flawed 'cup' competition (MLS Cup) with little to no fan interest is one of them. USOC is not an MLS creation and I am really jazzed that Seattle has made USOC a more prominent competition in the last two years.

  12. Walt Pericciuoli, November 22, 2010 at 12:05 p.m.

    I agree with Gus. We as fans can influence the importance of the trophies by showng our support respectively.

  13. Daniel Clifton, November 22, 2010 at 12:13 p.m.

    I agree with Gardner's analysis about Dallas inexplicably bypassing the midfield to play long balls. I think that is why they lost. This is what Dallas forced RSL and LA to do. In this game Dallas got a taste of their own medicine. They should have been more insistent on keeping the ball on the ground. I don't think you can totally blame Colorado's rough tactics for Dallas' failure to keep the ball on the ground while on the offensive. All they did was play into Colorado's strategy.

  14. Loren C. Klein, November 22, 2010 at 12:18 p.m.

    Not the greatest MLS Cup nor the most exciting, but it was definitely watchable. Weather wasn't as bad as everyone predicted, and attendance on TV was to be more down to Toronto supporters throwing their toys out of the pram at ownership, which is a separate issue. ...and Tom, it's how we've done it in professional sports in the United States for a century now. Methinks you're just going to have to get over it.

  15. beautiful game, November 22, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.

    It was clear that Dallas was playing shorthanded from the get-go. Harris and Shea showed total ineptness while Benitez for some reason used countless long balls while on many occasions a pass into the middle of the midfield would have guaranteed possession and some team rhythm. Ref Toledo let this match become too physical which enabled the Rapids style. As for John Harkes behind the mike, 75% of yada-yada garbage and 20% of analysis bordering on stupidity. Harkes has no business behind the mike.

  16. James Madison, November 22, 2010 at 11:01 p.m.

    Paul has the nature of the game right---not a soccer match, but a battle. However, for excitement maybe he forgot the match in which Eddie Pope headed in the winner for the come-from-behind DC United. And if only Harkes would put a cork in his mouth and let the utterly charming and knowledgeable English commentator do his thing uninterrupted by gibberish.

  17. R. william Chettleburgh, November 23, 2010 at 12:07 a.m.

    Duh...dat round deal and dem thangs cuncushion on dey thang? WORD BOOTY

  18. Phil Love, November 23, 2010 at 10:06 a.m.

    As usual, spot on Paul! I traveled to the game from Texas to support FCD. We also couldn't figure out why FCD went to the all long ball attack. Also can't figure out why Atiba Harris plays every minute of every game. It seems like "letting the game flow" is now the most cherished attribute of refereeing. The game isn't "flowing" when offensive play is being choked by constant fouling not called by the referee. The NHL figured this out and scoring went up. Hmmm something that might yield more goals...worth a try?
    Weather wasn't bad. Low attendance was mostly due to late start time on a Sunday night and two no-name teams in the final. Congrats to Colorado. Rapids played their usual game and won. We didn't. No excuses - not weather, not refereeing. Toronto is a great soccer town. Unlike North Texas, their foreigners embrace their team instead of deriding the level of play and atmosphere at the games.

  19. Mark Ellis, November 23, 2010 at 11:34 a.m.

    Great article Mr. Gardner. There were occasional glimpses of soccer such as Marvin Chavez's pass to David Ferreira for the Dallas goal, but they were mostly overshadowed by the excessive physical play. An exciting finish, but a poor showing for the sport of soccer.

    As a few posted, please, ESPN get rid of John Harkes!

    "As for John Harkes behind the mike, 75% of yada-yada garbage and 20% of analysis bordering on stupidity. Harkes has no business behind the mike. " - I w Nowozeniuk

    "if only Harkes would put a cork in his mouth and let the utterly charming and knowledgeable English commentator do his thing uninterrupted by gibberish." -James Madison

    and my thoughts on Harkes, taken from my post on another topic
    "John Harkes is absolutely lifeless and horrible when it comes to broadcasting. He's also very negative. I just watched the MLS Final, which unfortunately was probably more like an NFL game than a football/soccer match, but nearly every comment of Harkes' began with "What he should have done.....", "That was a poor....", "They really need to......". Fantastic work Mr. Armchair Coach! Very enlightening. Please let's have someone who gives the game some life. They don't even have to be passionate about the particular sport, but they better have some passion about broadcasting! Ray Hudson provides both, but works for GolTV. Ian Darke is fantastic as a commentator.
    I honestly think this has a lot to do with interest in watching a sport on television. It's not like being at the game, so you need someone to portray that excitement and enthusiam through the television and that is where the announcer comes in. Howard Cosell and/or John Madden, if we must stick with Americans, would have made watching paint dry the most interesting broadcast on TV. John Harkes would make the most exciting event ever feel like watching paint dry, and probably be as knowledgeable about that as he seems about soccer. I realize he played on the US National Team, but that in no way qualifies him to be a television announcer, just as it doesn't qualify him to manage/coach. Not all players can see the game from a "wider view" like a coach or broadcaster sees the field.

  20. wilco ravestijn, November 24, 2010 at 12:13 p.m.

    Paul, was not a big fan of your critical article on the Dutch in their final (maybe because I am Dutch:-)). I think it's hard to criticize players that are playing in the most important game of their lives because they are going to do whatever it takes or, more related, whatever the ref will allow players to get away with. Sometimes that leads to overly physical games. That's where the referee must step in and in the MLS CUP FINAL, that didn't happen. It happened in the world cup final, however with exception of De Jong’s karate kick, the ref pulled the cards and made the calls as best he could. In a soccer developing country like this, we need to educate our youth soccer referees by example. Is this the example we want to send our youth referees? If you can’t play good soccer, just be a bully and wrestle the other team for the win. I’m sure that will develop lots talented players in this country.

    The good news is that luckily the game had the lowest ratings out of all MLS CUP FINALS of its kind so not many people saw how bad it really was.

  21. Alvaro Bettucchi, November 24, 2010 at 11:09 p.m.


  22. Cool Dudes, November 27, 2010 at 4:17 p.m.

    The team that scored the most goals won. That's who should win. The team that scores more should win, otherwise this would be ice dancing.

    Macoumba didn't exactly injure himself though, his leg was actually crushed by a secondary defender, which was a clear penalty, which should result in a penalty kick, so if the ball doesn't get deflected in, Colorado should have had a penalty according the rule book. Also I'm not sure if the ball was on target, but Macoumba had Hartman clearly beat on the far post.

    See 1:17, not pretty though:

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