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?
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.
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.
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.
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?