For those of you out there who had Dallas-Colorado in the final of your MLS playoff pool bracket, we salute you.
All three of you.
That’s no slight to FCD or the Rapids—both are worthy finalists who reached the title game with exciting and convincing wins this weekend. Dallas knocked off the Supporters’ Shield winners and Colorado dispatched the team with the league’s leading scorer.
But this championship-game matchup, between two teams that finished out of the playoffs just a year ago, was unexpected, to say the least.
Looking back, though, maybe it shouldn’t have been.
Let’s don the hindsight specs (certified 20/20) and take a glimpse.
Hoops against the Haters
Dallas were an elite team for most of the regular season. They put together a record-tying 19-game unbeaten streak, and they only lost four times all season. Yet they had more doubters than Bigfoot.
It may have been all the ties (14). It may have been the unusually competitive field in the West, where both Real Salt Lake, the defending champs, and Los Angeles, the Supporters’ Shield winners, topped them in the standings. It may have been Brek Shea’s midsummer cornrows.
Whatever the reason, FC Dallas were not a fashionable choice—and they used that as motivation in their stunning 3-0 pasting of Los Angeles on Sunday night.
Dallas scored their first goal, by MVP candidate David Ferreira, against the run of play in the 26th minute. They seized momentum after that, and by the time young defender George John and speedy winger Marvin Chavez had found the net, FCD were firmly in control and LA were chasing the game.
Highlights: LA 0, Dallas 3
We’ve seen it time and again, in all sports: a contender doesn’t get its due and uses that to gain a motivational edge that makes all the difference.
That, as much as anything, is why Dallas—and not LA or RSL—will play next Sunday. They were simply hungrier and had more of a chip on their shoulder.
There was a subplot, too, with an identical theme: the story of goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. Unwanted in Kansas City, the 35-year-old latched on with Dallas at the last minute and went on to play a pivotal role in their run to the title game—including on Sunday night, when he made six saves, several of the spectacular variety, to pave the way for FCD’s triumph.
Colorado may have been favored to win their conference final over eighth-seeded San Jose, but their title run still has a strong “nobody believed in us” element. Look for them to talk that up before next Sunday’s final, where they’ll undoubtedly be the underdog.
They downed San Jose 1-0 on Saturday, while controlling play for much of the game at a frosty Dicks Sporting Goods Park.
The goal came from an unlikely source, Rapids right back Kosuke Kimura—who had a superb game overall—and the Quakes complained it was a fluke. Kimura swung in a cross from the right flank that ended up bouncing into the net after Omar Cummings narrowly missed getting a touch on it.
Highlights: Colorado 1, San Jose 0
But Cummings was initially credited with the goal by TV announcers—and he effectively scored it: It was his attempt to play the ball that threw off Busch and allowed Kimura’s cross to find the net.
And the goal wasn’t the only difference between the teams: Cummings should have iced the game in the 65th minute, when he took a great through ball from Jeff Larentowicz, rounded Busch—and somehow hit the crossbar with his shot.
Colorado had threatened two minutes before that, as well, but Busch did well to save Pablo Mastroeni’s shot from the top of the box. They also came close five minutes later, when Geovanni cleared Drew Moor’s header off the line.
San Jose had a terrific season, and they battled on Saturday. But, narrow margin aside, this was a solid and deserved win for the Rapids, who proved to be the best team in the East bracket. They will now make their first appearance in the MLS Cup final since 1997.
Here’s another reason no one should have underestimated FC Dallas: 2010 MLS Coach of the Year Schellas Hyndman.
Hyndman led FCD to just six wins in his first 30 games with the team after taking over in 2008 following a 24-year career at Southern Methodist University. But the franchise stuck with him, allowing him to find the players and mold the team that he wanted, and they have been handsomely rewarded. Hyndman led Dallas into the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and has now guided them to their first-ever appearance in an MLS Cup.
Like his increasingly famous leather jacket, the man just gets better with time. His team is extremely organized, tough to break down, and playing with a lot of fight. They’re going to be hard to handle at BMO.
Matt Pickens—and His Beard—Are Going to MLS Cup 2010
Here are the Top 4 nicknames for Pickens’ beard we thought of while watching Colorado-San Jose:
5. Weird Beard
4. The Chick Magnet
3. Billy Goat’s Gruff
2. Li’l Rasputin
1. Rocky Mountain Hermit
The Crumb Catcher, Rapid Rejection, The Lost-A-Bet, The Lumberjack, The Schrute
Dallas’ head-turning margin of victory over Landon Donovan, David Beckham & Co. certainly makes them the favorite heading into next week’s title tilt, but anyone wagering on the game would do well to remember that these teams finished just four points apart in the Western Conference final standings.
Their goal differences (14 for Dallas, 12 for Colorado) were nearly identical, and they won the same number of games (12). They also tied both matches against one another this season.
Highlights: Colorado 1, Dallas 1
In other words, don’t expect a lopsided score line (then again, we would’ve said the same thing before LA-Dallas).
The central midfield battle—between Colorado’s Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz, and Dallas’ trio of Daniel Hernandez, Dax McCarty and David Ferreira—will be fascinating to watch, and should go a long way to determining the winner.
Will Colorado adjust their formation to deal with FCD’s five-man midfield?
Will Hyndman spring a lineup surprise (as he did on Sunday against LA, starting winger Atiba Harris as a lone striker up top)?
How will the Dallas back line handle Conor Casey and Cummings?
We’ll get all the answers, along with a 2010 MLS champion, next Sunday night.