Odd couple to compete for MLS Cup
Colorado takes on Dallas on Nov. 21 at Toronto's BMO Field
It's far from the dream final of the New York Red Bulls vs. Los Angeles Galaxy for which everyone was hoping, with David Beckham and Thierry Henry going head-to-head in Major League Soccer's championship game.
But Sunday's MLS Cup final at Toronto's BMO Field will be historic in that a new league champion will be crowned for the first time.
FC Dallas beat the Galaxy 3-0 on Sunday to advance to its first MLS final in franchise history, while the Colorado Rapids booked its spot in the championship with a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes the day before. The Rapids' only previous final appearance came in 1997, when it lost to DC United.
And while it may not have much marquee value, the Colorado-Dallas final is a close matchup on paper between two teams that are peaking at the right time.
"The interesting thing with Colorado is they're very similar to us," Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman told reporters during a conference call on Monday.
"Neither team really got the respect from the media or from people in the soccer world. … But when it comes down to it, both teams have played with a lot of character and a lot of heart."
Indeed, few expected either side to make it this far.
Dallas went winless through its first five games of the season, while Colorado registered a single victory in its opening eight contests of the campaign. But both sides turned things around, and now find themselves one win away from winning the league championship.
Led by the awesome scoring duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, who combined for 27 goals this season, Colorado lost just three of its last 14 regular-season games. They carried that momentum into the playoffs, defeating the Columbus Crew and San Jose in quick succession.
"We're in a good place," said Colorado coach Gary Smith. "Of course we're delighted to be here and I think we deserve to be here. We've been competitive when we've needed to be. We've shown resilience.
Like Colorado, Dallas rightfully earned its spot in Sunday's final by eliminating Real Salt Lake, last year's MLS champion, in the first round of the playoffs before upsetting Los Angeles, the best team in the league during the 2010 regular season.
Self-belief in the Dallas camp is running high, especially with star midfielder David Ferreira (a league MVP candidate) and veteran goalkeeper Kevin Hartman at the top of their games.
"I think our players really believe in themselves. Our players will be there, and they will be at their best," Hyndman said.
"Whether the game goes the way we hope it will go, or it doesn't go the way we want it to go, I think the one thing we can say is that we will be at our best."
Ferreira was magnificent against the Galaxy, scoring one goal and having a hand in the others, while Hartman made a handful of great saves, including a blistering long-range effort from Landon Donovan.
"It was a fantastic result for Dallas and probably not how most pundits would have expected that game to unfold," Smith said. "They must have been under pressure [but] going into Los Angeles and getting the win, they showed the quality of character they possess."