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Fearless predictions for Rapids-Dallas final

November 19, 2010 | 9:45 am No comments
By Shaun Schafer

The improbable matchup of the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas for the 2010 MLS Cup has reduced most prognasticators to muttering gibberish about the tactical differences on the field, the 4-4-2 versus the 4-5-1.

Yes, the Hoops will have one more person in midfield than the Rapids. Yes, the midfield total includes likely league MVP David Ferreira.

And what has this combination produced in two regular season meetings? Two ties.

So, move on. The 4-5-1 can clog the midfield, but it can also short-circuit the attack. The Rapids demonstrated this while tinkering with the 4-5-1 this past season. The formation will not make the difference during the MLS Cup match on Sunday.

Nor will the goalkeeping. Matt Pickens is excellent and underappreciated. Kevin Hartman is “El Gato.” He may be an aging cat, but he is still a cat and a noticeable improvement over Dario Sala in goal. It’s an even match there.

What will make a difference for two teams that put playing as a team first? Read on.

Where He Roams: Where forward Conor Casey receives the ball and where he goes with it will determine Colorado’s success in attack. Casey’s willingness to take the ball wide, rather than charging up the middle of the field, led to the club’s post-Labor Day revival. It boosted Casey’s assist total as it gave Omar Cummings space to move with pace.

If Casey is able to get the ball and turn, the Rapids will be able to score. If he’s constantly bumping and banging as he goes up for headers and has no obvious outlet, the team will have trouble mustering shots inside the box.

Former Teammates: Cummings is blazing fast, and the only person I have seen outrun him will be in the middle of the Dallas defense. Former Rapid Ugo Ihemelu consistently kept pace with Cummings when they were teammates.

Normally, knowing that someone is actually faster than Cummings would be a worry. However, in scoring 14 goals this season, Cummings has developed tactical moves, guile and a deadlier shot. He’s earns the edge as he faces one of the few people who can negate his pace.

When these two meet on Sunday, it will be in desperate moments with goals on the line.

Wing Men: Brian Mullan and Jamie Smith will be busy setting up forwards and trying to blunt attacks. Neither is likely to land on a highlight reel.

The two Dallas attackers to watch are Brek Shea and Atiba Harris. Shea will be coming from the midfield wings, and Harris will either be out there or starting up top as the lone striker.

Shea has had a wonderful season, but was a nonentity in the 1-1 tie with the Rapids in Commerce City. Harris always seems to be on the precipice of scoring. Finding these two and keeping them from getting free with space will be largely the task of Anthony Wallace and Kosuke Kimura.

Normally, I would give the edge to Shea and Harris, especially because of the youth of Wallace at left back. However, Wallace was with Dallas through half the season. If ever there was someone with the knowledge of his opponent and the desire to prove his worth, it would be Wallace against Dallas. If he shuts down the right side of the Hoops attack, it’s hard to see Dallas scoring.

Intangibles: It will be cold. There will be former teammates facing one another. There will be two MLS original franchises looking for a first title. Looking at all the intangibles that can go into a winning team, I see two that most intrigue me: the returnee and the veteran.

The Returnee: Marvell Wynne was outstanding in his three years playing for Toronto FC. Playing on BMO Field, Wynne will have a host of local fans. I think he will want to remind everyone of what they lost. I look for something improbable from him — a long, dribbling run, an assist, a header — that makes a difference for Colorado.

The Veteran: Pablo Mastroeni looked old and tired in the second half of ’09. Working in tandem with Jeff Larentowicz, he has enjoyed a renaissance year. His team is often chided for playing without style. What most observers aren’t appreciating is that they are playing with style, Mastroeni’s style. They mix it up in the midfield, they win loose balls, and they constantly look to spring forward. If they are playing their style they will win.

The Final: It will be low scoring, and penalty kicks are a possibility. However, there are enough holes in the Dallas defense to squeeze in a goal or two. Rapids 2, Dallas 1.

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