Monday, November 22, 2010

MLS Cup 2010: Five Things We Learned From Sunday's Title Tilt

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

The 2010 version of the MLS Cup may not have been glamorous, but it was certainly thrilling to the end. The Colorado Rapids came from behind to beat FC Dallas in overtime 2-1, and Rapids forward Conor Casey was named the game’s MVP.

Don Garber spoke during halftime and MLS fans learned some things that the league will change next year (number of playoff teams) and will think about changing in the future (going with the official FIFA calendar). It was intriguing and will certainly be hot topics for debate.

That being said, there were also some things done on the field that are worth talking about. Here are five things we learned from the MLS Cup.

Rapids-Real Salt Lake rivalry

Don Garber and Major League soccer have been pushing rivalries. There is the Chivas USA-Galaxy “classico” in Los Angeles. In 2011 Portland and Vancouver will join Seattle to form a heated Pacific Northwest rivalry. And Garber really wants a second team in New York to battle the Red Bulls.

But what really creates a new rivalry? Winning. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics aren’t local rivals, but they have the greatest rivalry—possibly the only one—in the NBA because year in and year out these two teams fought each other to win the championship.

The Rocky Mountain Cup, played between the Colorado Rapids and Salt Lake City, should intensify this upcoming season as the match-up now features the previous two MLS Cup champions.

RSL proved 2009’s championship wasn’t a fluke, finishing with the second most points in MLS. Colorado, who came into the playoffs as the seventh seed, will be aiming to do the same thing in 2011.

David Ferreira earned his MVP

Ferreira certainly had a phenomenal season. He had eight goals and 13 assists (second most in MLS) and played and started all 30 games of the season. He certainly played a huge role in FC Dallas’ success.

However with Chris Wondolowski’s league-leading 18 goals and 9 game-winning goals, along with San Jose’s surprising appearance in the playoffs, many thought the MVP award would go to him.

Ferreira won the award, and although he didn’t have to prove he was a worthy candidate, his showing on the league’s biggest stage, in prime time, certainly opened a few eyes. His goal was a great run and finish, a good display of the talent he has shown FC Dallas fans all season.

Defense wins championships

FC Dallas went from non-playoff team to MLS Cup finalist thanks to a huge turnaround in the play of their defense. And in the championship game, due to some unfortunate circumstances, they once again saw the flip-side of the coin, how bad breaks on defense can ruin the season.

Heath Pearce, a huge signing for the team at the end of last season, was one of the key contributors to the defensive turnaround, yet he was unable to play due to injury. His replacement, Jackson Goncalves, then was injured.

And of course, there was the game-winning goal that was ruled an own-goal, knocked into the net unluckily by George John.

Missing a key starter on defense, having his replacement get hurt and take away a substitution from the team, and an unlucky bounce off another defender, proved disastrous for Dallas.

On the other hand, Colorado saved their victory by great defensive efforts. Matt Pickens had been under the radar coming into the game due to Kevin Hartman’s stellar play, but the Colorado keeper had been solid all year, and his diving save and Drew Moor’s clearance off the line in the overtime period saved the game from going into a shootout and preserved the win.

Designated Players don’t guarantee championships

Maybe this isn’t something newly learned, and we knew it would be prior to the game, but it was reaffirmed that high-priced Designated Players don’t guarantee championship victories.

The rule, which allows a team to sign up to three players for more than the maximum contract the salary cap restrictions allow, was put in place in 2007. In MLS Cups since then, only two teams with at least one DP appeared in the final, and none have won it.

David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Thierry Henry are all great players. However, with the way the league rewards parity—for better or worse—strong supporting casts are also needed.

Conor Casey is tough

The goals scored—one by Casey—and the game itself wasn’t pretty. But Colorado was the tougher, grittier team and they were victorious. And it’s tough to say that anyone plays with the qualities more so than MLS Cup MVP Conor Casey.

Casey doesn’t score the prettiest goals ever, but he gets the job done. In 87 league games with the Rapids, he has scored 42 times, almost a goal every other game.

Casey is strong and tough and does a good job of getting his head on the ball. He showed great awareness on his game-tying goal, sticking with the play, finding the loose ball, and knocking it into the net.

All of his success is tribute to his workman-like and professional attitude he brings to the pitch, and he and the Rapids proved to be very deserving champions.

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