MLS rewarding form over fame
Major League Soccer has oozed unpredictability since its inception, with seven different teams winning its last ten editions. Despite the competition’s penchant for the unexpected, however, a vast majority were left mightily surprised by the fact that FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids reached Sunday’s finale.
They will both vie to become the third new MLS Cup champions in succession in a match that will take place away from American soil for the first time. And though the likes of David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Geovanni, whose teams fell short at the penultimate hurdle, will be absent at the BMO Field in Toronto, an exciting, wide-open battle is anticipated.
FC Dallas's route to Canada's largest city was indebted to forward-thinking - in the most literal sense of the word. Speaking following the team’s 3-0 last-four triumph over title favourites Los Angeles Galaxy, coach Schellas Hyndman made no secret of the formula behind their success.
He said: "We keep preaching to our players, ‘Think forward, look forward, pass forward, and run forward. We want to instill that mentality that when we get the ball, people are running forward."
It is a formula that not only works, but also excites. In a city dominated by the world famous Cowboys, one cannot help but feel that it will take soccer such as this to ensure Hyndman’s team get the attention and plaudits they deserve when they return to Texas, regardless of the result.
Key to Dallas’s chances of a positive one will be playmaker David Ferreira, who has 13 assists to his name this season. It was the class of the diminutive Colombian, coupled with an heroic goalkeeping performance from 36-year-old Kevin Hartman, that proved central to the Texans beating the Galaxy 3-0 in their Western Conference final last Sunday.
Rapids rise to success
Colorado Rapids are a team very much in the mold of a traditional 4-4-2, which may not come as a surprise knowing their coach Gary Smith is English. If Dallas have lit up the play-offs, then the Rapids have been a little more tentative in guiding their way to the MLS Cup, typified by a tight 1-0 win over San Jose Earthquakes in the Eastern Conference final.
The Rapids' strike force is arguably their most potent weapon, with Jamaican Omar Cummings playing the speed merchant to the powerful, determined Conor Casey, who, with 13 added to his tally this term, is now the franchise’s all-time leading goalscorer. If the harsh weather of a Canadian November isn’t leaving the Dallas defenders a little apprehensive, then Colorado’s forward duo quite possibly will.
Smith’s charges may not have the panache of their upcoming opponents, but he believes that his team is a strong, coercive unit which has steadily improved since he took the reigns at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in 2009.
He said: "I'm two years into my tenure here and the team has slowly but surely improved, and we've made some nice additions, and the guys that are still here, the core of the group when I started have really developed nicely and have formed some terrific relationships with the guys that have been brought in."
It is a match-up bubbling with intrigue, with on-pitch battles that are too difficult to call. It may be a showcase without the stars, but in a competition of endless shocks, not knowing what to expect seems the perfect way to conclude another fascinating MLS season.