MLS Championship Preview
It’s eerie how similar the seasons of FC Dallas and the Texas Rangers have shaped up. Both teams had never won a playoff series before this year, and both chemistry-rich teams defied expectations (and beat opponents with more star power) to reach the finals of their sport’s championships. Of course, it didn’t end so well for the Rangers, but FC Dallas has a chance to bring a championship to North Texas when they play the Colorado Rapids on Sunday. The game is taking place in Toronto, but you can catch it at 7:30pm on ESPN. With both teams looking for their first-ever MLS Cup victory, it’ll be a sweet celebration for someone.
Of course, ESPN executives were probably hoping for a final between the L.A. Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, not only because they represent major markets but because of the star power of both teams. (L.A.: Landon Donovan, David Beckham. New York: Thierry Henry, Rafael Márquez.) Yet both of those high-priced teams spit the bit, with New York meekly losing a playoff game at home to San Jose and the Galaxy getting skunked 3-0 at home by FC Dallas last week. Despite not having any players with World Cup experience (most MLS teams have at least one guy who’s been to the big tournament), FC Dallas is one win away from the title.
FC Dallas has relied on goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who was offloaded from
the Kansas City Wizards, ahem, Sporting Kansas City last year. He missed a fair chunk of the season after a thoroughly bizarre play in which Thierry Henry injured him during a goal celebration, but Hartman bounced back to make some key saves in FC Dallas’ playoff run.
The Red Stripes play a 4-5-1 formation with Jeff Cunningham serving as a lone striker. Usually a big, physical forward is required to play in a one-striker formation, but even though Cunningham is more of a fast, slashing type of forward, he has done a good job in the role. Behind him, the five-man midfield consists of defensive guys Daniel Hernández and Dax McCarty, while USA prospect Brek Shea and Honduran burner Marvin Chávez provide speed down the wings. The wild card is David Ferreira, the 5’5″ Colombian playmaker who provides unpredictability and finesse to the offense. FC Dallas has had good experiences with Colombian players (remember Juan Carlos Toja?), and Ferreira has just been named Major League Soccer’s MVP. Can he add a playoff MVP to his trophy cabinet?
What can we expect from Colorado? They’re a team that’s very solid down the middle, starting with the central defense partnership of Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne Jr. (the son of the Houston Astros’ infielder from the 1980s). The middle of the field is held down by defensive rock Pablo Mastroeni (who represented USA at the World Cup in 2002 and 2006) and red-haired Jeff Larentowicz, a decent passer who can shoot from long range. The strike partnership of battering ram Conor Casey and Jamaican speedster Omar Cummings has proved extremely difficult to defend. If former FC Dallas winger Anthony Wallace gets into the game, he’ll be extremely keen to strike back at the team that traded him to Colorado just this year.
With the stakes this high, the game will be tense and hopefully aesthetically pleasing as well. Now’s the time to jump on the Red Stripes’ bandwagon.