CARSON, Calif. -- If one could summarize the buildup to this MLS Cup in one word, that word would be tactics.
Forget about the players. Forget about the circumstances. Just hand everyone a white board with a soccer field and let them draw out how they see Juan Carlos Osorio tinkering with his lineup or how they interpret the Crew's counter attack. That's how this game will be decided, according to the apparent majority who think X's and O's will decide the match.
“It's not all tactics,” Crew coach Sigi Schmid argued. “People want to put so many things into tactics. If it was all tactics, there would be a lot of guys in this league at 45 or 50 because tactically our minds at 45 or 50 are a lot better, but the problem is you can't run anymore.”
Tactical switches generally work better when the other team isn't intimately familiar with your personnel. These teams played three times during the season and both coaches have likely watched countless hours of tape in preparation for this game.
“The guys know who New York has and we've identified the players we need to pay special attention to, but at the end of the day, it's about our execution, our work rate and our effort,” Schmid said.
New York striker Juan Pablo Angel said there were no secrets between these two teams. There aren't likely to be any surprises in store either – unless you include the Boyens v. Mendes and Rojas v. Ubiparipovic selection posers as game changing decisions.
When championships are won, the focus inevitably falls on how the champion emerged victorious, not the way the winning coach thought the losing coach would line up his squad the day before the game.
On a day where nerves and thoughts can overwhelm even the most experienced veteran, the focus has to remain on how to elicit the best performance on the day, not how the other team may adjust to it.
“Bora used to have a saying when I used to work with him: 'You must know everything about your opponent and you must know nothing,'” Schmid said. “It used to confuse me. What he really meant is that you have to prepare yourself and know about your opponent, but at the end of the day, it's you that is important.”
Not that tactics won't play some role. New York's proclivity for defensive, counterattacking soccer might force the Crew to the high pressure it exhibited in the second half against Chicago. Boyens is better in the air on set pieces, while Mendes may be a better option from the run of play. Ubiparipovic may not be 100 percent fit, perhaps making Rojas a better option if he continues to show the industry he did during his substitute's role last week.
“It's a one-off,” Osorio said. “This is a final. You're not just going to go ahead and score goals and leave the back line exposed. But I think there will be goals.”
Those decisions likely won't decide the game. The players on the field will determine who lifts the trophy.
In a game where the tactics won't matter as much as the performance, I'll take the team with the better players. New York will score once, perhaps through Angel. Columbus, however, will score twice. They'd best get the first goal, considering how well the Red Bulls have defended in the post-season. I think that will happen and will happen in 90 minutes.
It won't be easy and it may not be pretty. But I think Columbus leaves Carson with the trophy after a 2-1 win and sends a yellow and black clad city in central Ohio into hysteria.
And the tactics won't be the reason for it.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and blogs frequently during the week for Goal.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com.