Ready for the final?
How much more momentum could either team possibly have? Playoff runs lead teams to think they are invincible, and both Colorado and FC Dallas will have more than a bit of confidence coming into this matchup.
For Dallas, running through the top two regular season teams without breaking much of a sweat has to have them feeling fine. The only question is whether or not cruising past the Los Angeles Galaxy left a false feeling of accomplishment in the side. The win was emphatic and may have been the high point of the year for FC Dallas if they drift into dwelling on past success.
Colorado should be primed and focused for another close contest. After slipping past Columbus in the first round on penalties the Rapids had to scrap for a win over San Jose in the Eastern Conference final. Both wins showed a level of commitment within the Rapids players that lacked at times during the season and could be enough to frustrate FC Dallas.
Styles make fights and the tactical matchup between FC Dallas and Colorado could shape out to be a very entertaining.
The strength of both teams runs right through the middle of the pitch with strong central midfield play headed by veterans. On the Dallas side League MVP David Ferreira is the playmaker with defensive mid Daniel Hernandez sitting in behind in a 4-1-4-1 look, while Colorado relies heavily on the workrate of Pablo Mastroeni and the defensive hardness of Jeff Larentowicz to secure the middle of the park in the more traditional 4-4-2. It will interesting to see how much freedom Mastroeni is given, or if stopping Ferreira requires the Colorado star to stay at home. It's far more likely that Larentowicz will be given Ferreira duty, but if Mastroeni has to stay deep, the Rapids' midfield loses some punch going forward.
The other big matchup is in Dallas' defense where Ugo Ihemelu and George John will be tasked with stopping Colorado's potent front pairing of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings.
Casey and Cummings are the most dangerous front pairing in the league, but with the help of Hernandez John and Ihemelu match up incredibly well physically. Stopping Cummings will be the biggest problem. The Jamaican's speed and ability on the ball draws defenders out of position and leaves gaps for Casey and the midfield to run through. Dallas will have to stay compact in the middle and rely on a shaky set of fullbacks to deal with Colorado's wing play and deny service.
The Rapids have great speed in the center of their defense with Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor which sets up a nice matchup against the rest of the FC Dallas attack. While Ferreira pulls the strings, Brek Shea, Atiba Harris and Dax McCarty all love to plunge forward with pace out of the midfield, and Harris could be used up top again to help stretch the field.
The biggest turning point in this match will likely be Colorado's ability to deal with FCD's counterattack. While the Galaxy struggled to put pressure on Dallas as they broke forward, giving too much space on the ball and failing to close down passing and shooting lanes, Colorado should have the pace to stay tight with their runners. The Rapids love to throw balls forward and with two of the best strikers in the league, why not? But Dallas is lethal on the break and Colorado will, unquestionably, have to defend at least a few odd number breaks with the way the Rapids' fullbacks like to storm forward.
For Dallas it's clear that dealing with Cummings and Casey has to be priority number one. Hernandez denying entry passes from midfield will be key to forcing the ball wide, and Dallas will have to do better in the air than they did against the Galaxy to give Kevin Hartman a bit more protection.
Refereeing will also play a huge role in this match. Ferreira is not only a threat to find a deadly ball or score goals, but the League MVP is a master at drawing fouls. Colorado will try to touch the little midfielder as much as possible, and the limits of what they can get away with could swing the flow of the game in favor of one team over the other.
Heath Pearce is still out of action for FC Dallas, though there have been reports that he could make a return for the final. Milton Rodriguez is also suffering from a groin strain and is still out, leaving some questions as to who Dallas will use up front this time out. The situation is basically the same as it was for the Conference Final.
Colorado has some lingering questions in the midfield, leading to speculation that Brian Mullan and Jamie Smith will man the wings despite Wells Thompson getting the start in the Conference Final. But other than the preexisting knocks, the Rapids look fit to return the same base team that has helped them into the final.
There is no next. This is for all the marbles.
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