By Evan Ream
So of course, just two months after I name the Colorado Rapids the worst franchise of all time, they come back and win MLS Cup. I can honestly say that I didn’t see this coming and so for the second straight year, we have had a surprise MLS Cup Champion. While it is another debate completely (and possibly another article that I will write) if the playoff system and low seeded champions are good for the league, I want to take the focus off of that and just focus on the game last night, and what a game it was.
Last night on Twitter, many people were disappointed with the game and a few even called it the worst MLS Cup ever. I don’t think this was the case. It wasn’t an amazing game, but it was definitely exciting, and as a side note, I am going to rank the MLS Cups from worst to best right now.
15. MLS Cup 2000 – Sporting KC 1 Chicago Fire 0
14. MLS Cup 2005 – LA Galaxy 1 New England Revolution 0 (After Extra Time)
13. MLS Cup 1999 – DC United 2 LA Galaxy 0
12. MLS Cup 2002 – LA Galaxy 1 New England Revolution 0 (AET)
11. MLS Cup 1998 – Chicago Fire 2 DC United 0
10. MLS Cup 1997 – DC United 2 Chicago Fire 1
9. MLS Cup 2006 – Houston Dynamo 1 New England Revolution 1 (4-3 on pks)
8. MLS Cup 2010 – Colorado Rapids 2 FC Dallas 1 (AET)
7. MLS Cup 2009 – Real Salt Lake 1 LA Galaxy 1 (5-4 on pks)
6. MLS Cup 2007 – Houston Dynamo 2 New England Revolution 1
5. MLS Cup 2001 – San Jose Earthquakes 2 LA Galaxy 1 (AET)
4. MLS Cup 2003 – San Jose Earthquakes 4 Chicago Fire 2
3. MLS Cup 2004 – DC United 3 Sporting KC 2
2. MLS Cup 2008 – Columbus Crew 3 New York Red Bulls 1
1. MLS Cup 1996 – DC United 3 LA Galaxy 2 (AET)
This list also probably deserves its own article, but I’m just trying to make the point that this game wasn’t bad; it was essentially an average MLS Cup, which is actually very good considering the quality of some of these games. ANYWAYS, I should probably start actually analyzing this game so here are my thoughts:
The game started out at a quick pace with FC Dallas looking intent on throwing numbers forward. They got their first shot off in the game in the 1st minute and it was actually a decent chance, with Atiba Harris heading wide. From here Dallas did not let up as attacking, for once, seemed to be a team’s game plan in the final. During the game, Dallas created a plethora of opportunities as evidenced by their 17 shots to Colorado’s seven. Unfortunately, some poor finishing and some late-game heroics by Matt Pickens undid them. Colorado, however, won the battle in the midfield, as Jeff Larentowicz was clearly the man of the match with Pablo Mastroeni having an excellent game as well.
In the 35th minute, Jair Benitez played an excellent switch to Martin Chavez, who was for some reason all alone on the right side. Chavez had the time and space to take a few touches before expertly picking out David Ferreira with a bending cross. Pickens came off his line too slowly and Ferreira finished easily in what was to be the best moment for Dallas all night. Highlights:
From here, the game got quite chippy, with fouls going both ways, but mostly Conor Casey (or Casey Conor?) fouled everyone that he got near. Casey most definitely got under everyone’s skin, leading up to his 57th minute goal, which although scrappy, showed what a true goal scorer is willing to do to score goals. I loved this goal (around 4:25 in the highlights). Casey never thought about anything else but scoring. Even when he was on the ground in between two players, obviously hurting from the collision, he didn’t hesitate for one second. Sometimes games are won by who was stronger mentally and Casey showed that he clearly had a stronger mentality than Jair Benitez who he abused all night.
The Rapids then had a great chance in the 62nd minute with Kevin Hartman making an amazing save on a Jeff Larentowicz blast (5:30). Though it doesn’t show it in this particular highlight reel, the shot was so nice that Larentowicz actually started to celebrate before Hartman made a save that could only be described as “top drawer.”
From here, however, the game slowed down quite a bit, with neither team wanting to give up a decisive goal. It would play like this until extra time in which Macoumba Kandji, an afterthought of a player at times, would make the biggest impact of his career. Kandji entered the game for Colorado’s best player, Omar Cummings, in the 98th minute. Though Kandji would play just nine minutes, they were the most important nine minutes in the 15-year history of the Colorado Rapids.
In the 2nd minute of the 2nd extra time period (107th overall), Casey found Kandji with a long diagonal ball in an unassuming position near the goal line. Kandji, with his fresh legs, easily beat Jair Benitez (who was beaten on both goals) and played in a hopeful ball, injuring himself in the process, that took a very unfortunate deflection off George John and left Kevin Hartman with no chance (6:50). Kandji would stay down for a few minutes, adding to the drama, and giving FC Dallas a chance to collect their heads.
Kandji was hurt and had to leave the field while FC Dallas would spend the rest of the games pumping balls into the box against a team who was playing down a man. Dallas actually should have scored, with George John striking an amazing left footed shot, but Pickens made the save of his life to preserve the victory (7:40). From here there was only one more real chance with Cunningham whiffing on a great chance in the box (8:45) and FC Dallas castoff Drew Moor clearing the ball for the victory.
In the end, Colorado were deserving winners, perhaps a bit opportunistic, but definitely deserving. Dallas should have finished Colorado off earlier, but they lacked the killer instinct to do it. Jeff Larentowicz won every single 50-50 ball in the game and should be commended for his efforts in helping Colorado bring home the title. For Dallas, Jair Benitez was the goat, despite being involved in the Dallas goal. Dallas must ponder what went wrong and decide what changes, if any, they need to make in the offseason. The first step: sign David Ferreira to a long-term deal.
This concludes my recap on what was definitely a memorable MLS Cup, congratulations Colorado! Join my brother, Matt Ream, and me tomorrow as we are going to do a mock expansion draft ahead of Wednesday’s expansion draft between the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC for their inaugural seasons.