Dallas Soccer: 2010 MLS playoffs

Maicon Santos no big loss for FC Dallas

December, 14, 2011
12/14/11
3:44
PM CT
Earlier today, in news that didn't surprise many who know the situation at all, a quote from FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman surfaced saying what most already knew, that the club was going to go a different direction than bring back forward Maicon Santos.

On one hand, it’s a pretty glaring indictment of how badly the trade with Toronto FC that brought the South American striker to Frisco for off the bench energy guy Eric Avila has gone that FCD would give up on Santos this early.

On the other hand, there is plenty in Hyndman’s background, even at the professional level, to illustrate this is business as usual for the soccer sensei. Trust is a very big thing with Hyndman and after Santos underwent a dental procedure without the team knowing, and then chalked up his lack of finishing on the field to the medication he was on following the procedure, it was clear SH was more than a bit miffed about the whole situation.

In short, Santos had delivered a fatal one-two gut punch to his relationship with Hyndman, a blow that basically signaled that his time with FCD would be short.

One, Santos' lack of finishing on the field, where he did his best impression of former baseball player Kurt Bevacqua who Dodger manager Tommy LaSorda once said couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a [expletive] boat, gave Hyndman legitimate concerns about him going forward. And two, the whole tooth thing just cemented that lack of trust from the gaffer’s end.

To his defense, Hyndman was totally in the right. Here’s a guy in Santos who is new to the club who gets a dental procedure done without the team’s knowledge and when his form stinks, he chalks that up to the medication he’s on. How’s that for shattered trust?

Santos clearly has talent but while some were quite happy to see him come over from the Reds for a fan favorite in Avila, those a bit more detached from the situation wondered why TFC would cut him loose with so little fanfare.

Sure, Toronto has made some questionable personnel moves ever since they joined MLS but now that Mo Johnston is no longer pulling the strings up there, the moves have gotten much better and getting rid of Santos, at least from their standpoint, was a move they were more than willing to make.

It’s clear that things didn’t work out for Santos north of the border and now it looks like things haven’t gone so well for him here. That’s not an indictment of his character by any means but one has to wonder about him now that it’s happened twice. If it happened once, it could be chalked up to a difference in opinion or philosophy. But now that he will likely be leaving his second club in less than a year, one has to wonder.

Above all else, Hyndman is big on everyone being on the bus. Those that aren’t or who show no signs of coming aboard quickly fall by the wayside. Maybe the Santos thing is as simple as that. But from what he’s shown since he’s been here, it’s really no big loss, even with FCD’s current dearth of players up top.

Two new Academy players on US national team radar

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
10:25
AM CT
US Soccer has announced the latest US U14 camp, yes they go that young, and two FC Dallas Academy players on on the roster: forward Christian Ramirez from Farmer’s Branch and midfielder Martin Salas from Dallas. The 14s is a long way from being able to help the senior FCD side but such is the way great clubs are built world wide in this sport. It shows a great deal about the level and depth of FCD's Academy that players this young are already on the US radar.

The U.S. Under-14 Boys’ National Team will convene for a training camp from May 1-8 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Head coach Manny Schellscheidt has called upon 38 players, including 20 from U.S. Soccer Development Academy clubs, as the team comes together for the first time since a trip to Mexico in January.

Commentary: We can dig our own holes

November, 25, 2010
11/25/10
1:21
PM CT
“Ain’t much difference between winning and losing except how the outside world treats you. ... We can dig our own holes.” (Coach Gaines, Friday Night Lights, the movie)

I love this movie quote, and I love it a lot because it's about sports in Texas…the real sport that matters in Texas…High School Football. Yet the line seems so appropriate when you experience a match that shows in lights what the darkness can bring forth.

FC Dallas made their first appearance in the grand finale of MLS, fighting for the Alan I. Rothenberg Cup, Mark II. FC Dallas fought until the end, and at the end of 120 minutes and then some, the score was 1-2 in favor of another team that had never won before. The difference was a deflected cross off an FC Dallas defender, that floated like a dagger across the goal line and into wrong the net.

As anyone who watches and plays soccer will tell you, soccer is a cruel game. Its cruelty in the 2010 MLS Cup Final would be noteworthy, but in fact it is not. In soccer the own-goals and deflections are so common, that a bad bounce loss is merely an unfortunate result, not the definitive statement one hopes for in a Cup final.

Take a wager and ask every player on that other team if they ever came out on the wrong end of a bad bounce. A couple seconds later their eyes will go blurry and they will remember more than a few bounces that cost them a game, a season, a Cup, or a job. FC Dallas has had more than their share of bad bounces, never mind the systemic failures of the USSF soccer referee committee. It seems as if soccer's well of ill fortune never quite runs dry for FC Dallas.

Given the nature of the game, you have to balance the outcome against even in the high-stakes venue of an MLS Cup. I must take the whole story into account. And the whole story is that the 2010 team is an outstanding team. They posted a phenomenal record in the regular season, and marched through the playoffs an unstoppable force. They were the first FC Dallas team to even play a complete season, never having the habitual summer swoon that past teams could never escape.

Entering the playoffs they routed the sitting MLS Champions, and then took down the Galaxy, the team many people thought would be certain victors on their home ground. Instead, Dallas out-paced the Galaxy from one end of the field to the other, and took the Western Conference Championship into MLS Cup. That they came out a bad bounce short makes marginal difference to me. Things like that happen, and the champions of the sporting world recognize it for what it is, just another random setback.

A score line in soccer can be deceiving, to put it mildly. Often have I heard the commentary of a game describe that the score line did not do justice to the game that was played. This is said, rightfully, in both directions. Games with a close score line are often really never in doubt. Meanwhile what looks like a blowout in the end was a tight contest until an improbable sequence breaks open the game.

Being "hard done" by a score line is a phrase I learned early on observing soccer. The score line of the 2010 Cup was indeed deceptive. Dallas played solid attacking soccer, and took an undue beating for it. How Casey got through most of that game without a yellow card is something that needed asking in the post-game evaluation. He was spoiling for one from minute one, and the ref let him get away with it. When he got one, the game opened up considerably.

Fans, it's just another setback. The season and the final proved that FC Dallas is for real, and will be a contender out of the box in 2011. Be proud of your determination and loyalty to a franchise that is and always was the red-headed stepchild in every possible way, even in their own community. That chip on the shoulder is what gives the fans and the team its resolve and character. The dumb luck that took the Cup away is the whetstone to sharpen that chip of bitterness.

As the team takes a few weeks off to heal some knees, ankles, skulls, and the occasional hangover, I will be enjoying the memories of a great season by a cohesive and tough soccer team that deserves plenty of praise. This FC Dallas is worthy of your admiration. This merely adds to the mystique of the team. Always denied, ever ready to fight on. I will pass the off season filing my resentment to a razor's edge, getting the chip on my shoulder ready for the next campaign.

Well done boys. See you in the spring.

MLS Cup did not have to be so ugly

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
7:49
AM CT
I think we can all agree that MLS Cup 2010 was a poorly played, ugly match that marred what should have been a fantastic night for the league and the sport.

What ruined the match is something that plagues MLS matches in general. That is the issue of "persistent infringement" and MLS referee's refusal to be brave, take a stand, start blowing the whistle and stop the smaller fouls that muck up the game.

At the Supporter's Summit there was a session that included the main personalities responsible for organizing, assigning and reviewing the performances of the MLS referees. They put on a very impressive presentation that demonstrated their commitment to cracking down on the most serious of fouls - the injurious types both seen and punished by the referee and those that go noticed and/or unpunished. That was all good and well, and appreciated. Towards the end during the Q&A I brought up what turned out to be a sadly prophetic question.

I fully believe that MLS refereeing's biggest fault is its refusal to enforce "persistent infringement". This is the concept that players that have been called for three, four, five non-cautionable fouls, should eventually receive a yellow simply because their play is infringing on the flow and quality of the match. I am not alone in thinking that MLS almost encourages Colorado's style of play because the players know that as long as they are not endangering their opponent and generally leaving their fouls in the center of the pitch where goal scoring is not imminent, they will escape with only a restart. Of course this is a victory for the offender because they have successfully squelched the opponent's attack before its able to get anywhere. Sunday night's match was this on steroids. The answer given to my question was that there was a desire to allow play to go on and not "blow the whistle repeatedly, stopping the game over and over". This obviously is silly reasoning, almost like allowing kids to steal from the candy store because dealing with them is just too much effort for such a little crime.

In the first fifteen minutes of the match Pablo and Jeff had committed at least six fouls. Dax put in his fair share, as had Hernandez. Some called, most not. What Toledo didn't do was establish that he'd had enough. Because of this the tone was set and Dallas' fate was sealed because the Rapids are the better team when the game calls for getting stuck in and mucking up the flow of play. Dallas tried to do the same, and certainly committed their fair share of disruptive fouls, but the Colorado goals came from FCD's untypical moments of not protecting possession and not some sort of Rapid's attacking flair.

No one is advocating the idea that the referee stop play on every little thing, but there are differences. The ref and the players know it. There is nothing wrong with a referee stopping play and saying, look that is your third foul and that's too many, here's a yellow, now cut it out."

The failure of BMO Field

November, 22, 2010
11/22/10
1:04
PM CT
In the aftermath of MLS Cup 2010, it now seems obvious that BMO Field was a failure as the site for MLS Cup.

In the hour leading up to the contest MLS Commish Don Garber held a press conference where he announced that the league was going to start "investigating" the idea of following the FIFA Calendar. Garber claims that for FIFA's Sepp Blatter, this is priority number one for MLS to become a legit league. Garber pointed out that if MLS were following the FIFA calendar, Sunday night's match would be a regular season outing and potentially a good indictor if the idea of playing soccer in mid November, December or any other famously chilly winter night was going to fly with MLS fans.

If Toronto can't fill up it's quaint 21,700 seater for MLS Cup, even if TFC isn't playing, well then the idea of a Revs-Quake match in early December on a cold New England evening, or a Philly-Houston tie in February, is all just silly talk, isn't it?

That makes playing the Championship match in bitterly cold, windy conditions - on purpose - a flat out a bad idea. Its not charming in that "Green Bay Packers" kind of way. It is poor decision making.

There was a noticeable number of seats vacant in the leading moments of the match. By halftime they had grown to large empty patches, not unlike the brown areas in my front yard, so that by the the time the second half started you knew Garber, MLS, and its decision makers were embarrassed.

There was talk that TFC fans did this on purpose. Because the club and league had "forced" them to purchase MLS Cup tickets with their 2011 season ticket packages, and because TFC has been a four year failure on the pitch, fans had organized a boycott with the purpose of humiliating the club and league. If true, this was a selfish and shameful decision that merely harmed the league and likely did nothing to help their cause for a better product on the pitch.

MLS Cup 2010: End of the beautiful game

November, 22, 2010
11/22/10
9:18
AM CT
Winning the MLS Cup from two of the softest, most unappealing goals is indicative of the manner in which Colorado won and indicative of the manner Dallas lost.

FC Dallas, a team known for playing positive attacking-style soccer, was reduced to the same impatient, over-the-top physical play that the Colorado Rapids have survived on all season long. They also were simply better at it than Dallas. It wasn't five minutes into the match that the fouling had begun, by both sides, and the hope that either side would play possession or any kind of attractive soccer was out floating around in Lake Erie. Rapids coach, Gary Smith admitted as much after the match and was correct that his team's ability to adjust to that style of play was the reason the Cup will be in Commerce City for 2011.

Colorado's Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni were at their brutal best. The destructive pair quickly found out that referee Baldomero Toledo was more than willing to allow play to continue and only blow the whistle when absolutely necessary. With that invitation, the Colorado duo simply killed Dallas' attack by assaulting it to death. The result was that as Dallas found it impossible to play its game, FCD was reduced to booting the ball long -- and that is not something Hyndman's team is any good at.

Without getting the ball to his feet and back to goal, Atiba Harris cannot hold up play and allow the attack to develop. Instead, Harris was reduced to trying to fight off Moor and Wynne, who are both more aggressive and better at fighting for possession.

Dallas knew what it was up against Sunday night. Both of the previous matches against Colorado were sorry affairs. Dallas just can't find an answer for an opponent that brings out the bludgeon, especially vs. the Rapids, which can generally match them for speed.

David Ferreira was commonly found way out wide, hiding from the man marking which left Dax McCarty the victim of Larentowicz and Mastroeni's loving attention. Exacerbating the issue was the knee problems of FCD captain Daniel Hernandez. Most fans know his knee hurts, but the extent of his injury was largely unnoticeable until Sunday night.

Hernandez's knee is "hanging on by a thread," as reported by some that know him personally. Unable to move freely, he was unable to do what he does best -- collect and distribute. And with Casey and Cummings smartly falling back and pressing Dallas defenders -- preventing them from getting the ball to the static Hernandez -- the long-ball bootfest was in effect.

Dallas had its chances, especially late when Colorado was forced to stop pressuring and simply sit back. Dallas went into atypical panic mode and lost its patience. Gary Smith's side was almost begging Dallas to tie the match and send it to PKs, but Dallas instead lost composure and repeatedly tried to only cross the ball into the area and hope a Keystone Kops moment resulted in a second goal.

Instead, most balls were booted well away, and the few real opportunities were either saved (John's low blast), body blocked (Dax's repeated volley's from the top of the box) or woefully choked (Ugo's moonshot and Cunningham's brutal ... ah, don't get me started).

In the end, Dallas just could not overcome what the game has been demoted to. In the press box, there was a palpable disgust over how the match had transpired and a lot of eye rolling that the Rapids were galavanting around the stadium with the Cup. Not that Colorado hadn't won fair and square, just that the manner in which they were able to make their playoff run as the #7 seed was another indicator that MLS has a long way to go before the rest of the soccer world gives the league any real respect.

Smith was honest about how his team had achieved its championship: "It was always going to be tough [for the Rapids] if the game was too open, with guys like David Ferreira, who just have the run of the game. We limited a very talented group of players to next to nothing. I'm not sure it was the greatest viewing for fans, because it was such a cut-and-thrust game."

Fair points. But, gosh, does Don Garber and North American Soccer fans really want their champions to be that type of soccer team?

As a result, FC Dallas now joins the Dallas Stars, Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers as DFW area teams since 2000 that have all participated in their respective championship and lost. Not that it will make fans feel any better, but Hyndman's troops had a fabulous season and much to be proud of.

Until MLS either changes the way they officiate their matches, or Schellas finds an answer to negative soccer, Dallas will likely struggle to find their turn on the podium.

FC Dallas drops MLS Cup Final to Colorado Rapids

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
8:50
PM CT


FC Dallas was defeated 2-1 in MLS Cup in overtime by a strong, physical Colorado Rapids side in a ugly and scrappy game. Temps and weather were a factor in Toronto as the game became very physical. The Rapids tough nature stymied the FCD fluid possession causing FCD to try and bypass the midfield and play over the top.

What had seemed a team of destiny for FCD was undone by lackadaisical possession in their own end. A stray pass by Jair Benitez and failure to clear by Zach Loyd led to the first Colorado goal by Conor Casey. Slopping passing on the sideline gave the ball to Colorado for Macumba Kanji to toe poke the ball into the FCD net off George John's knee to take the lead.

MVP David Ferreira had scored a classy goal off a terrific cross from Marvin Chavez that put FCD up 1-0 in the first half.

Colorado has now defeated FCD in all five playoff meetings in the clubs history.

Pregame Video from Toronto

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
3:50
PM CT

Live! From Toronto, MLS Cup 2010

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
12:55
PM CT
Been here at the site of MLS Cup 2010 for just over 24 hours. A few observations and comments.

1) Wow, I had no idea smoking was so popular in Toronto. I know, weird observation for a soccer blog, but seriously, the percentage of smokers in this city rivals Louisville, KY. Walking down the street buildings that look like they are having fire drills, because of the pure numbers standing outside, are actually all of the smokers who've been banished for their habit.

2) The weather is going to be an issue tonight. It may or may not snow/rain, but it is bitter cold. But the part that I fear is going to play the bigger part is the wind. BMO Field sits just off the water and the wind is a steady 10+mph and gusting over 20mph. If it starts to precipitate, it will stink.

3) The league is very aware and honest that the scenario of how the playoffs came together has not been ideal and they are looking to fix the playoffs, but Garber stated that probably will see an "evolution" next year and wont see a true "revolution" until the league is balanced again in a few years.

4) You get the sense that everyone agrees that Dallas should win this match, but because of the weather and Colorado's counterattack style, that this match could see the Rapids pull of the win. It is hard to get anyone pinned down (neutrals, that is) on a prediction. The fact that the Rapids have had Dallas' number historically in the playoffs surprisingly has a very low awareness factor.

5) MLS fans should thank their lucky stars the league has a commissioner like Don Garber. I have seen him speak several times and in the last 24 hours I have attended two group meetings where he held Q&A sessions and I find him refreshingly honest, forthright and willing to take blame/credit where it is due. He answers questions that I could never imagine the commish of NFL, NBA, etc answering publicly.

6) At the Supporter's Summit, there was a session with the people involved with heading up, assigning and policing the MLS referees. It, also, was a very honest and eye-opening discussion about the obstacles they face. Included was a presentation from them (with video examples!) of how they take what happens on the field very seriously and they know the officiating needs improvement. With the 2011 calendar looking to be very clogged, the idea of having foreign referees brought in for matches of different competitions has been looked at.

7) My flight yesterday was full, and I have to say just less than 50% were on the plane because of MLS Cup. I was shocked at the participation level. Very nice. Although one FCD fan's attempt to get some chanting, singing started was met with a high level of apathy and/or discomfort.

8 ) Toronto as a city seems to have a surprisingly low awareness of the match itself. There are very few signs promoting the event, and in fact the appears to be no signage at BMO Field that can been seen from the highway that passes by. This despite the fact there are several billboard sized signs in the immediate area.

9) At the supporter's soccer tournament yesterday, in the final between two different TFC fan groups a "scuffle" broke out during PK's. The referee was just some poor, untrained volunteer and word is that Edson Buddle grabbed a few guys to prevent it from getting worse... I saw no fighting at this morning's media tournament, although I did see Kyle Martino being a soccer bully/showoff.

10) Toronto is home of what has to be the biggest damned Midieval Times I've ever seen.

MLS Cup 2010: how FC Dallas can win

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
11:05
AM CT
It's the biggest game of the year, ok scratch that, it's the biggest game in FC Dallas history. There will be a tremendous amount of pressure on both teams in this game, because the same can be said of Colorado. Neither team has won MLS Cup. Dallas is favored and is expected by most to win this one having knocked off the defending champ Real Salt Lake and the Supporter Shield winner LA Galaxy.

So how exactly can FC Dallas pull off this win?

Midfield penetration

Everyone, including Colorado, knows that David Ferreira is the key cog in the FCD system. The Rapids often double and triple team down on Ferreira when the ball comes into his feet. A center back will step up and one, or both, holding mids will collapse. Even an outside mid will help if Ferreira has drifted, as he is known to do.

Because of that blanket Ferreira will receive, one or two FCD mids should frequently be open. Dax McCarty, Brek Shea, Marvin Chavez, or Atbia Harris (depending on who starts where) most take advantage of the gaps and openings that spring up in this situation. We saw this in the opening round against RSL, when McCarty jetted forward to score.

FCD must take advantage of those open players to penetrate into the box and create danger. Dax McCarty is the most likely one to find himself free and has to penetrate past Ferreira. If FCD waits for it's MVP to win this one they may be in trouble.

Deny Casey / Track Cummings

The Rapids have the best striker partnership in MLS with Omar Cummings and Conor Casey. Casey is the big target central channel striker, Cummings the fast, dynamic mobile danger man.

With Casey it's important to deny him the ball. Both on high balls into his head and balls played into his feet. Defending him is less about stopping him with the ball as it is about stopping him from getting the ball. If the ball comes into Casey's feet he can either lay it off or turn and strike. Ball to the head can be put on goal or laid off with a deft header down. George John will predominantly be asked to body up Casey. John will need to time his moves well, stepping up to steal passes and still keeping proper position to hold Casey in other situations. John vs Casey could be the key man to man battle of this game.

The rest of the defense, including defensive leader Ugo Ihemelu who will have the most responsibility, will need to keep a close eye on Omar Cummings. Omar's pace, movement, and field switching runs mean no one player can mark him out of the game. Instead the defense, and this includes Daniel Hernandez and Kevin Hartman need to keep track of Cummings. FCD must know where Cummings is at all times. Cummings is one of the best players in MLS and for me is the Rapids MVP. If FCD loses track of Cummings he can and most certainly will punish them.

More Hartman

Kevin Hartman is having a season to be remembered. It still shocks to think of him not winning Goalkeeper of the Year with his performances. Hartman has been standing on his head in the playoffs. If he does it again in this game, FCD will win MLS Cup.

Most of what makes Hartman really good is his positioning. Yes, he does make great diving saves on the big chances that keep FCD in the game, but most of his work is just being in the right place and reading the game. That is what makes a great veteran keeper and it's why there are few young ones this good.

I'll was one of the first to say I thought Hartman was done prior to this season, I thought he was insurance backup at best. Boy was I wrong. Hartman has been spectacular. If he is again, FCD will win.

Deny Crosses

Colorado uses a flat 4-4-2 with two holding type mids. Of the two, Pablo Mastroeni is the one who will go forward, but that doesn't make him a play maker. Colorado is instead built to play from the wings. Crosses into Casey and Cummings are the bulk of the offensive moves with Casey playing back to goal and Cummings running the gaps in the defense.

Stopping these crosses is about wide defense and pressure on the Rapids outside mids and backs. Jair Benitez with, most likely at this point, Brek Shea on the left, will need to hold their side. Jackson (or is Heath Pearce healthy?) and either Marvin Chavez or Atiba Harris need to hold the right.

Kosuke Kimura on the right and Anthony Wallace on the left will be looking to move forward out of the back line, in midfield it's Brian Mullan or Wells Thompson (unless Jamie Smith has recovered). Which midfielder on which side isn't predictable as the Rapids mids can and will swap sides.

If FCD doesn't step up the wide pressure and prevent balls into the middle, it could be a long day for the Red Stripes.

Rise Up

This is as big as it gets. MLS Cup. FC Dallas has never been here before.

The Rapids are a good team. So is FC Dallas. Both teams have earned their spot in this game. The two teams have tied twice this season and match up well against each other. So what will be the difference in the game?

It may come down to one simple thing: who will step up.

As coach Dave Dir mentioned in his preview, big game are more about individual will and strength of character. There is not a lot of coaching left, game plans and schemes can go out the window. FCD will need someone to step up for the big occasion, take the energy and pressure and turn it to their advantage.

So who will step up, who can separate themselves from the pack and make the statement to win the game? David Ferreira and Kevin Hartman have done it all year. Daniel Hernandez has the guts, but so does Pablo Mastreoni. How about Jeff Cunningham, all time MLS leading scorer? Or will it be some unsung hero?

Who will be the man of the hour to take home the silverware?

Cup preview: FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
12:18
AM CT
Matchup: FC Dallas (12-4-14) vs. Colorado Rapids (12-8-10)

Gametime – Sun. November 21, 2010, BMO Field, Toronto, Canada 7pm ET (ESPN)

All-time Postseason Series: Colorado Rapids lead 5-2-2

2010 MLS Regular Season Meetings:

7/31 COL 1, FCD 1 (Ballouchy 26), (Baudet 22)
10/9 FCD 2, COL 2 (Rodriguez 27, Ferreira 37), (Larentowicz 13, 51)

Team Leaders:

Colorado Rapids – G: 14 Cummings A: 8 J. Smith
FC Dallas – G: 11 Cunningham A: 13 Ferreira

Match Outlook:

The MLS Cup Final nobody expected to see will be a dandy. FC Dallas is the favorite for the odds makers, but Colorado have everything they need to pull off the upset. During the regular season the teams met twice and played to a draw both times. The last eleven meetings between these teams are level, with four wins to each team. Colorado has knocked Dallas out of the playoffs in their last two appearances in 2005 and 2006.

Injuries:

FCD: The Hoops are hoping and praying to have the services of right back Heath Pearce and forward Milton Rodriguez for the final. Both are listed as questionable for Sunday. Pearce hasn’t featured during the playoffs, but Jackson has been adequate in his stead.

COL: Jamie Smith, the team’s assists leader, is listed as probable, as is goalkeeper Matt Pickens with a groin strain. Nothing to see here.

Tactical Outlook:

FCD: A 4-1-4-1 formation with midfielder David Ferreira coordinating the attack. Head coach Schellas Hyndman will hope to have the services of Milton Rodriguez up top and Heath Pearce at right back. However, it seems increasingly likely that Atiba Harris will get the start as the lone striker. The key will be, as always, whether or not Ferreira can find the ball and have time to distribute. If Larentowizc and Mastroeni can’t track Ferreira out to the sidelines, they’re going to lose the midfield battle. Ferreira doesn’t care how far he has to run to receive the ball and Pablo Mastroeni may find himself tiring in the late stages of the match if he chases Ferreira wide.

COL: Gary Smith has employed a number of formations during the season from a 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1 to the more traditional 4-4-2. The safe bet is a 4-4-2 with Conor Casey and Omar Cummings up top. Cummings is the danger man, a rare combination of speed and strength and an opportunistic goal-scorer. He’s the reason the Rapids are in the final.

Positional Breakdown:

Goalkeepers

FC Dallas – Kevin Hartman

Hartman’s saves in the first 20 minutes of the conference final against the Galaxy were nothing short of spectacular. He kept the Hoops in the game and the team responded by putting up three tallies. This man was robbed of the Goalkeeper of the Year award.

Colorado Rapids – Matt Pickens

Pickens is a solid, unheralded keeper. He’s not going to make silly mistakes during the match, but he’s not going to beat Hartman if it comes down to a shootout, either.

Advantage: FC Dallas

Defenders

FC Dallas – Ugo Ihemelu, George John, Jackson Goncalves, Jair Benitez, Heath Pearce, Zach Loyd

Heath Pearce is an option at right back for the first time in a while. If he’s healthy, Hyndman has to put him in the lineup. The more encouraging development for Dallas is that the central defense pairing of George John and Ugo Ihemelu is back to midseason form.

Colorado Rapids – Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Julien Baudet, Kosuke Kimura, Danny Earls, Scott Palguta, Anthony Wallace

Drew Moor quietly enjoyed a great season in central defense for the Rapids, and while Moor isn’t the best athlete, he reads the game superbly. Marvell Wynne has resurrected his flagging career in Colorado and is now an integral part of defense. Kosuke Kimura has really blossomed in his fourth season with the Rapids. All in all a mature group that has enough to contain the Dallas attack, as they proved during the regular year.

Advantage: FC Dallas

Midfielders

FC Dallas – David Ferreira, Daniel Hernandez, Dax McCarty, Atiba Harris, Brek Shea, Eric Avila, Marvin Chavez, Eric Alexander

With everyone healthy in midfield,. Hyndman has the luxury of picking his ideal lineup. If Atiba Harris plays up top, expect Marvin Chavez to start again on the right flank. Left winger Brek Shea will look to cut inside and draw the attention of the Colorado defense. Everything hinges on whether Ferreira can find the ball with time and space to creat opportunities to score. Hyndman can call on good midfield depth if needed in the late stages of the match.

Colorado Rapids – Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz, Brian Mullan, Macoumba Kandji, Jamie Smith, Wells Thompson, Cladio Lopez

Colorado’s midfield can’t afford to get too stretched trying to attack as the first responsibility will be containing Ferreira. If Mastroeni or Larentowicz can disrupt the Dallas passing lanes, they will need to be able to spring the attack quickly. Brian Mullan and Jamie Smith need to take advantage of every opportunity to cross the ball into the box.

Advantage: FC Dallas

Forwards

FC Dallas – Jeff Cunningham, Milton Rodriguez, Peri Marosevic, Ruben Luna

Though not listed as a forward, Atiba Harris will probably start as the lone striker for FC Dallas. That leaves Rodriguez, Cunningham and Luna as possible subs. Hyndman could bring Rodriguez on for Chavez late first half and move Harris to right midfield. If FC Dallas are down in the second half, Hyndman could also opt for two forwards with Cunningham and Rodriguez or the youngster Ruben Luna.

Colorado Rapids – Conor Casey, Omar Cummings

It’s no exaggeration to call this forward tandem the best in the league. Conor Casey is a big, menacing target forward and Omar Cummings is a sleek prowler with scary straight-line speed. What the two forwards lack is consistent service, something they will need if the Rapids want to lift the Cup. Kandji could come on late if Casey is tiring.

Advantage: Colorado Rapids

Match Prediction:

FC Dallas 2 – Colorado Rapids 1

FC Dallas are the favorites because they have taken down, in convincing fashion, the defending MLS champions (Real Salt Lake) and this year’s Supporter’s Shield winner (Los Angeles Galaxy). The Rapids actually match up quite well with FC Dallas with their tough, experienced central midfield pairing of Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz. David Ferreira hasn’t seen this kind of test so far in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the league MVP devises ways to get free of defenders. And in the end, FC Dallas will win the Cup because of Ferreira. When his teammates get on the field, they will look over at the diminutive Colombian and know they can’t lose. The Rapids are a fine team, and hats off to them, but FC Dallas is the best team in the league and will prove it on Sunday night.

Second opinion: could it be a great final?

November, 20, 2010
11/20/10
9:22
AM CT
Like many sports, title games in soccer never seem to be as climactic as the games leading up to them. Whether it's the pressure of not wanting to give the other team a chance to win or the players just feeling the pressure of the situation, finals seem to to be played extremely close to the vest.

I remember our 1997 US Open Cup Final like it was yesterday. (I guess I have to, since everything I read says Dallas has not won a major soccer championship since the Dallas Tornado.)

I am very proud of that title. At the time DC was the heavy favorite and nobody had beaten them for a final of any kind. We had thought we were in line for the double and when Colorado somehow upset us in the Conference Championship the Open Cup took on even more importance for us.

The '97 Open Cup was played in Indianapolis in front of a sold out crowd in a fairly small stadium by today's standards. Still, the atmosphere was electric. Our team was extremely loose, almost to the point of over confidence. Only a few players seemed to be feeling the pressure and it was surprising who they were.

Alain Sutter for one didn't seem to respond well to pressure in those days and had sat out three quarters of the Colorado upset. It was curious that in this final he also acted as if he didn't want to be there and was extremely reserved, but given the Colorado series that might have been my imagination working on me.

Other players like Gerell Elliott and Zarco Rodriguez seemed like they were ready to get on with it, as if they had a date with destiny. It's amazing how when you hit the real pressure what you learn about players. Some do not respond to those situations well, even when they are the best players for an entire season. That added bit of pressure seems to transform them. You can read it in your opponent as well.

I had never lost a final as a coach, all though I have lost enough trying to get there. I had been in four finals as a professional coach before the Open Cup and that being my fifth I felt very confident. Of course it would have been nice to make even more finals in MLS. I still consider myself lucky in those situations and a good reader of what it takes to win it.

We came into the Open Cup a very hot team, even having lost the Conference Championship. We had something to prove and we wanted to prove it against the best, which was clearly DC at that time. DC had won back to back MLS Cups and the previous Open Cup.

I can remember talking to Bruce Arena before the game, along with Cacho Cordoba, my long time friend and assistant. Bruce has always been a very confident guy when you talk to him. Some people get the wrong impression of that, feeling he's arrogant, but I always found it motivational, even understandable, and his sarcasm humorous.

This time however, when we were finished talking, Cacho mentioned to me that Bruce acted extremely unusual. He was humble to the point that we walked away thinking he didn't have a very good feeling about his team that day. It was very un-Bruce like. I told Cacho I had the same impression and although we can't be sure if it was true, we wondered if he had gotten a bad read about his teams mentality coming into the game. The point being that the pressure of the final often allows you to tell right away, from the locker room to the warm up, exactly how the game is going to go for your team.

I have watched thousands of games and in normal games your team can have a terrible warm-up and come out and play the complete opposite. A final, and I mean the final game, is like no other. Players appear to wear their attitudes on their sleeve as all their work comes to fruition. Some embrace it, some accept it, and some run from it, but the finality of the situation seems to put it out in the open.

This final seems to have the potential to be a great one. Yet missing is a team with experience. What we have is two teams coming into the game with equal footing, so to speak, with both teams beating favored opponents to get here.

Colorado may have had the easier path, similar to Real Salt Lake last year, but the Rapids still had to beat two teams that had been better than them the entire season. They did it with two outstanding front runners who really have found a connection and a midfield of buzz saws mowing down opponents attacking options and proving quality service.

Pablo Mastroeni has been outstanding to say the least and his efforts against San Jose showed a maturity that he has lacked in MLS over the years. Not just a hammer but a precise technician creating a link between the backs and the forwards while diffusing forays from the opponents quickly before they ever became any kind of a threat.

Their much maligned back four seems to be hitting full stride at just the right moment. Marvell Wynne's move to the middle and the emergence of Kosuke Kimura on the outside have not only made this team better defensively in front of Matt Pickens, but have given them much better balance. In a excellent piece of coaching by Gary Smith, he used Wynn's speed to balance Drew Moore's intelligence and has added better attacking options than Wynne on the flanks where Wynne's service and feet were always questionable.

Did I forget to mention the flanks in the midfield? While a much more direct, get the ball wade, and quality service in the mixer team, they do what they do well and have two guys in Jamie Smith and Brian Mullan who will be a hand full for Dallas. They know how to get behind you and get quality service in, or get on the end of things on the weak side.

They also have two forwards in Omar Cummings and Conor Casey who have great balance, allowing them to stretch an opponent as well as play off them, and both have a knack for getting on the end of balls in the box.

There are some hidden wild cards I need to mention in Anthony Wallace and the locally popular Drew Moore being dumped from his home town team for questionable reasons. Both should have extra motivation toward the man who dumped them. I don't think it will be enough but you know it has to be in the back of their heads and I expect them to be flying.

FC Dallas, on the other hand, takes a back seat to nobody. This team is a true team that has played with character the entire season and one that went through the two best teams in the league to get here.

The prevailing opinion from much of the soccer experts through the season had been that they had done it with smoke and mirrors because of all the ties, but those ties are very deceptive. The beauty is in the fact that where they're good they are extremely good and force you to deal with their strengths rather than allow you to expose their weaknesses. And if you somehow exposed them they found a way to get a point. They just refused to lose.

In attack, they kind of put it in your face to say "you can't stop this" with the confidence of their leader. They have guys that can score up top but haven't been consistent, but they don't care. They just find a way to get it done.

In the midfield, they throw a plethora of players at you second to none. They can hit you from any position and are seven deep in a five man midfield. Ferreira steals the show and his runs are so difficult because you must not only have a midfielder who can keep the play in front of him but must also have pace to handle the diagonal runs in behind the midfield.

Brek Shea has weaknesses defensively but it's hard to expose them when he is allowed to attack with reckless abandon, putting so much pressure on you to defend while he is trying to get behind you. If he is having an off night you have Marvin Chavez who can do the same but might be even better at coming inside, combining and creating a scoring chance. If that is not working there is the workmanlike play of Atiba Harris. He is long, lanky, strong, can get behind you, and is great at coming in on the weak side on service.

It sounds like a lot, but the balance might be even more impressive and that comes from Dax McCarty and Daniel Hernandez. Hernandez is not able to cover the ground he used to and is content to sit in there and anchor the first line of defense. He bridges the gap to the defender and keeps them from being left on an island like the Dallas team of last couple years.

McCarty is the perfect tweener. He does the pesky defensive work of a defender, resembling a gnat you can't seem to wave off, especially when Jair Benitez or any of the flank players make those endless runs into attack. And yet McCarty has the excellent ability to connect passes and connect the defense to the attack.

If you need a little extra late in the game we haven't even mentioned the super sub Eric Avila who knows his role and is very good a it.

This is a back four that takes risks and can get exposed on the flanks, which leads us to maybe the most important part of the match up. The two center backs are very sold and have speed to go with aggression. When they do make mistakes occasionally on the ball they have a goalkeeper who is on fire, playing the best of his career.

I would argue that the LA Galaxy game, as well as the Salt Lake game, if not for the play of Kevin Hartman the result would have, or at least could have, ended very differently. It was key saves by Hartman when the opponents were in control and applying a lot of pressure that kept Dallas in the match and allowed them to turn the pressure the other way.

So we come down to two and when you put these two team together the match ups are intriguing. In the attack they are two very different teams and they both seem to play well into the others weaknesses.

Colorado is good on the flanks where Dallas likes to send people forward often leaving space wide behind their backs. Dallas has a multi-pronged attack, can score by committee, and has attacking midfielder that can force Colorado's recovery to look like the dogs chasing the rabbit at the dog track. This could be a wide open game, end to end, with both teams creating a multitude of chances.

Alas that is only my hope as it is a final. Games like this can be hampered by the aforementioned pressure. What makes a high score less likely is both keepers are playing well..... but Hartman? Come on? He is ridiculously good right now and has the chance to add to his four MLS Cup memories and stick it to the people who said he was done.

I don't think there is any question Dallas has been the stronger team and has the most weapons, but that doesn't always matter in a final. It is a battle of wills.

This truly has the chance to be a great final if both teams decide to come and play the way they got here. If that happens it favors Dallas, who I have to pick to win and get the coach with "great soccer knowledge" that which has eluded him in the past. I believe Dallas has the horses and will have it's first MLS Cup.

Just don't call it the first championship! Just the first one with the FC Dallas name. No one will be more proud than the coach who started the Burn from scratch.

Burning Sensation: That cold night in Indy

November, 19, 2010
11/19/10
6:14
AM CT
There are a lot of videos on the internet of me doing really silly, embarrassing things, but I'm about to introduce you to one of the more obscure. (i'll leave your Googl'in to find the others)

It was a crazy cold night in Indiana when I traveled to watch the then Dallas Burn take on the vaunted DC United for the 1997 US Open Cup.

For me that night holds two moments of special memories.

First, it was the night I witness what was the single greatest individual sporting performance I've ever witnessed, and second, it was my first in-person experience of seeing a club I support win a championship - which then lead to the aforementioned video.

The night belonged to Mark Dodd.

For those who don't know, Mark had been one of the league's better keepers, but was having a hard time breaking through to the national team, or getting credit for his season. The details are sketchy for me and I don't remember the cause, but Mark's mother had died the day before the match. I seem to think it was an "out of the blue" thing and not the end of a long illness - either way - it was a certain shocker to see Mark in the goal on that cold night. But over the course of 120 minutes and a shootout, he stood on his head making save after save. It really was a moment of sporting greatness that likely will go unnoticed on any grand scale. For me it was the equal, if not better, than Emmitt Smith's 'injured shoulder game' against the Giants. It was huge. You could see that Mark was playing for something greater, on a different level and that he could have likely won that night if it had been him versus eleven.

I was in the stands, freezing, next to the family of one Tommy Soehn who are a 'lively' bunch. At the time Tommy was a Dallas defender, but yes, the same Tommy that ended up managing DC United. I was also there with a few brave members of "The Inferno", the original Dallas Burn supporters club (some of which slept on my hotel room floor) and the less than 2000 other total fans in attendance.

It was an entertaining match, as about as entertaining as MLS could be back in 1997, as Dave Dir's Burn was always one to attack first, but missed several opportunities, as did United (who wore those awesome long sleeves w/ stripes jerseys).

But it went to PK's, Mark Dodd was the hero, Dallas won and we all rushed the pitch. This is where the video comes in. As I ran onto the pitch Tommy Soehn's brother inadvertently checked me into the advertising signage along the touchline, (which left a bruise the size of a soccer ball on my hip for the next month), but I was able to recover and join the frenzy. I was so happy, I'd never experienced winning a championship in person before. I had this giant red/black flag on PVC pole and I just started running around and around the pitch and around the pile of elated Dallas Burn humanity - and that is what you can see on the video. It's really funny.

So this weekend as I board a plane to Toronto to be there for the only other time Dallas will be playing for a Championship, it will be a freezing cold night. But there will be a lot more people there, and I won't be in possession of a giant flag. Certainly I hope to see a great individual performance, just without the personal cost. But all these years later the idea that FC Dallas Burn is finally in the MLS Cup is a pretty major deal for me personally. I can not wait to witness it, and win or lose, it will be a great experience.

Although as much as I will want to match or exceed it, I don't think it could ever eclipse the greatness of that cold night in Indy.


FC Dallas news recap, MLS Cup version

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
9:37
AM CT
Milton Rodriguez may be fit. That's surprising, Milton thought he was done for the year.

Daniel Hernandez is playing in his 4th MLS Cup. Dang, impressive. He's 0-3. Ouch.

FCD is close to landing a "Major" jersey sponsor.

FCD will be wearing blue and white uniforms for the Cup. That's ok, FCD is one of the best road teams in MLS.

FCD has a MLS Cup blog.

Jamie Trecker looks at some story lines and thinks TFC may be kicking themselves over some players in this game.

Bob Nadaio at the Bleacher Report says Colombia is MLS' most valuable country this year.

An unlikely pair in the Cup, on the Modesto Bee.

David Ferreira on being named Best XI.

The Rapids have a plan to handle Ferreira.

Michael Ambrose of FCD Academy is in the 36 man camp for the final US U18 team prepping for the trip to Tel Aviv in December.

A new champ will be crowned in MLS Cup. 680 News.

Steve Davis' Best XI is here, he has Hartman in net and Ferreira in midfield. Pearce in the 2nd team.

Marvin Chavez is the "little mosquito" apparently.

Galaxy Choke job by Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America.

The reserve league is returning to MLS. Dang, I need to find someone to cover reserve games. The league also lifted the restrictions on home grown player, MLS teams can now sign as many as they want. Rosters will expand to 30 for 2011, the additional four spots won't count on the cap, which means they are reserve or youth spots.

Simon Borg on Drew Moor's journey back to Dallas. Class player who's heart is still with this club.
Moor confessed that in each of the matches he’s played against FC Dallas since then, he has always vowed to refrain from celebrating a goal. He says that Sunday will not be any different should he find the back of the net.
It's anyone's game for MLS Cup, Toronto Sun.

Are FCD and the Texas Rangers Deja vu all over again?

MLS tactics looks at how the rapids exploit weaknesses.

Coach Smith says Colorado are the underdogs.

Old school versus new school? Soccernation.com thinks game day attire matters.

The soccer daily talks MLS Cup.

Kevin McCauley is upset about the FCD ticket/travel package the team offered.

SMI's best XI has Heath Pearce and David Ferreira in it. Hartman is 2nd team. Hernandez 3rd.

Steve Davis says locker room leadership matters. And on SI he gives SH some love for emphasis on team.

FCD photos from LA.

Behind the scenes video with Daniel Hernandez.

KC Wizards is now Sporting KC. I like both name and logo. Good re-brand there.

New York looks like it will be MLS' 20th team.

FCD to play in 2011 CONCACAF Champions League

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
9:33
AM CT
By making MLS Cup, FCD not only has a shot at the MLS title, but they have also qualified for the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League. FCD has never played in that competition before.

MLS also announced that MLS teams playing in the CCL will get additional allocation money on top of the normal MLS allotment.

SPONSORED HEADLINES