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Cup preview: FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids

11/21/2010
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The Man In The Zone: Kevin Hartman

No player has been hotter in the playoffs than Kevin Hartman in leading FC Dallas to the MLS Cup

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.