21 November, 2010

MLS Final

The MLS final between the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas has just ended, and what a thriller! No matter who won, we were guaranteed to see an original MLS team raise the trophy for the first time. If you have not watched the match and don't want to know the result, read no further.

OK, ready for some spoilers?

Colorado should have had the opportunity to take the lead with a penalty kick in the 29th minute, but referee Baldomero Toledo decided not to call one. Conor Casey had the ball in the penalty area, near the end line, when Dallas left back Ugo Ihemelu pulled him down by the arm. As Casey was getting up, Dallas defender Jair Benitez of Colombia tumbled over Casey. Then Casey regained control of the ball, pushing it past Benitez, and then Benitez, on the ground, tripped him from behind for an apparent penalty, clear to everyone except Toledo. This would set the tone for the remainder of the match, as Toledo didn't call much on either team.

The scoring began in the 35th minute, and it started with Jair Benitez. He sent a long ball out of the back to right wing Marvin Chavez of El Salvador. Chavez then sent a cross from the right wing that was just out of reach of Matt Pickens, and David Ferreira of Colombia beat Pickens to the ball and one-touch volleyed it into the net to give FC Dallas a 1-0 lead. Strangely, the recently named MLS MVP Ferreira was completely unmarked, as Colorado center backs Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor each must have thought the other would cover him, so neither one of them did.

Conor Casey would equalize early in the second half, in the 57th minute. Jamie Smith of Scotland, a surprise starter in the final, sent a rolling ball from the left wing across the face of the goal. Kevin Hartman and Conor Casey both slid on the ground, racing for the ball, and Casey won the battle, poking the ball past Hartman to tie the score while fighting off Jair Benitez.

Colorado very nearly won the game in the 62nd minute on a free kick. Pablo Mastroeni tapped the ball to Jeff Larentowicz, who blasted a shot toward the inside of the post that Kevin Hartman had to dive and stretch to his full length to save.

In the 75th minute, Baldomero Toledo made a strange decision not to call any except the most blatant fouls. As a result, the fouls grew more and more violent, and few were called. Several players clashed and were injured, but there would be no more goals in regulation. In the 108th minute, though, Colorado substitute forward Macounda Kandji of Senegal, recently acquired from Red Bull NY, nutmegged Jair Benitez. As Benitez flailed to stop him, Ugo Ihemelu completely flattened Kandji, but not before Kandji got off a weak little centering pass. George John attempted to block the centering pass with his left thigh, and it glanced into his own net to give Colorado a 2-1 lead in the second overtime. Kandji was injured on the play, and left the game, leaving Colorado with only 10 men for the remainder of the game. Ihemelu cruelly shoved Kandji to the ground as the Colorado trainer was assisting him to his feet, as if Kandji was faking, but the fact that Kandji did not return and left his team shorthanded clearly indicates that he was not.

George John very nearly made up for the mistake. In the 121st minute, John pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area and blasted it toward goal, but Matt Pickens made his finest save of the night to preserve the win for Colorado. Lastly, in the final minute of added time in the final overtime period, Rapids defender Drew Moor hustled back to clear a weak shot by Jeff Cunningham off the goal line to save the game. The Professor awards Man of the Match to Colorado Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni, who made a lot of nice runs and passes on offense as well as his usual defensive ball-stopping, and (along with Jeff Larentowicz) also blocked several Dallas shots when Colorado packed the penalty area throughout the second half.

Congratulations to the enduring fans of the Colorado Rapids, who have followed their team for 14 seasons and have not had any MLS championship trophy until now. Congratulations also to Pablo Mastroeni, making his first appearance in an MLS final after 12 years in the league and winning it. And finally, congratulations Matt Pickens for having the best beard in the league. It looks like he has been growing a playoff beard since the 2009 playoffs ended!

Photo: MLS
Video: MLS/MC88Checo

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