When the MLS playoffs began, a glamorous championship game matching the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls seemed possible.
Instead, when the MLS Cup is played today at BMO Field in Toronto, the league will settle for FC Dallas against the Colorado Rapids, teams that not only lack national resonance, but have also become almost immaterial in their local markets.
David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry are out; Ugo Ihemelu, Jeff Larentowicz and George John are in.
Dallas finished the regular season with a 12-4-14 record while Colorado was 12-8-10, making this a meeting of the lowest combined seeds to face off in an MLS championship. Dallas finished third in the Western Conference while Colorado was fifth.
Both teams are founding members of MLS with largely empty trophy cases – and largely empty stadiums, too.
Both teams rarely fill their new suburban stadiums. The Rapids were 12th among 16 clubs in home attendance (13,329) while FC Dallas was 15th at 10,815 – less than one-third of what league attendance leader Seattle draws.
Players broke out hats and gloves for training this week.
The temperature was under 40 Friday, making conditions a bit daunting.
“It’s very cold out here,” FC Dallas’ Colombian playmaker, David Ferreira, said through a translator. “We’re going to try to adapt the next few days so on Sunday we’re prepared to be on the field.”
Ferreira, who was selected league MVP on Friday, practiced along with teammate Atiba Harris, a native of balmy St. Kitts and Nevis.
The temperature figures to be in the 30s for the 5:30 p.m. PST game.
“It’s going to be cold,” Colorado forward Conor Casey said. “From what I hear it’s going to be rainy. But it’s cold and rainy in Denver too, so we’ll be prepared.”
Colorado coach Gary Smith, a British native, had just one complaint and it wasn’t the climate.
He called the field surface “a bit bobbly,” but didn’t seem overly concerned.
“Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids would have been in the championship game?” Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said. “I think it says a lot about both teams. I know we’re playing our best soccer right now and I know Colorado’s playing their best soccer and we’re hoping to put a great display of quality soccer that represents the MLS.”
Led by Ferreira and goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, Dallas eliminated defending champion Real Salt Lake and the league leader Galaxy.
“That game against L.A. may have been the best game of the season for us,” Hyndman said.
MLS CUP GAMEDAY
COLORADO RAPIDS VS. FC DALLAS
5:30 p.m. at BMO Field in Toronto
This season: Colorado went 12-8-10 to finish fifth in the Western Conference but beat the Columbus Crew on penalty kicks, 5-4, after a 2-2 aggregate score in the first round of the playoffs, then edged the San Jose Earthquakes, 1-0, to reach MLS Cup. FC Dallas finished the regular season 12-4-14 – third in the Western Conference – then edged Real Salt Lake, 3-2, and routed the Los Angeles Galaxy, 3-0, in the playoffs.
MLS Cup records: Colorado is 0-1, having lost the 1997 MLS Cup to D.C. United, 2-1. This is FC Dallas’ first MLS Cup appearance.
Breaking down the game: FC Dallas has the MLS Most Valuable Player in midfielder David Ferreira and the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-against average, Kevin Hartman, whose 0.62 GA set an MLS record. Ferreira finished the regular season with 13 assists, second-most in MLS, and eight goals. He has added one goal and three assists in three playoff games. Colorado’s strength is up the middle, especially on defense, with center backs Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne backing midfielders Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz. No pair of teammates in MLS has been as productive as Rapids forwards Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, who combined for 27 goals this season.