Five thoughts from MLS Cup final
The MLS champion Rapids deserve credit for yet another playoff comeback
The stands weren't filled, and MLS should have the higher seed host the final
The MLS is mulling an August-to-May slate to join the international soccer calendar
Colorado deserves some credit for its comeback in an unlovely final. After going down 1-0 to Dallas on a beautiful goal by David Ferreira, Colorado kept plugging away and got two of the uglier goals you'll ever see in a final. But they all count the same, and the Rapids can be proud of their first MLS Cup championship. I thought Colorado was done in the first round of these playoffs when it went down by one late in Columbus, but they summoned a comeback and prevailed on penalties. I had the same feeling in this game, with Conor Casey continuing to plug away until he first equalized (on a rebound while planted on his backside) and then sent the key pass on the decisive sequence in extra time. The ball found Mac Kandji, who nutmegged Jair Benítez and popped the ball off unlucky George John into the net. Pretty? Hardly. But Colorado showed plenty of fortitude, withstanding a torrid Dallas assault in the final minutes despite having only 10 men on the field.
Jeff Larentowicz was a force for Colorado. The Ginger Ninja won balls all over the field and dominated the center of the park, prevailing in his battle with the smaller Dax McCarty of Dallas. Larentowicz has often been overshadowed in MLS (particularly when he played next to Shalrie Joseph in New England), but he really came into his own after moving to Colorado this season. He doesn't just do the dirty work, either. Larentowicz has become one of the more dangerous free-kick takers in the league, and he hit a wicked free kick that Kevin Hartman sprawled to save in the second half. Casey may have been your MVP, but you could have made a very good argument for Larentowicz.
It's time for MLS to hold the final at the stadium of the higher-seeded final participant. It didn't look good at all that the stands here in Toronto were emptying during the deciding moments of the championship game. MLS has said that it's considering changing the site of the final to the stadium of the higher-seeded finalist, and I'm all for it. On the two occasions that the final has taken place in the stadium of a finalist, the crowd has been huge: in 2002 when New England played Los Angeles in Foxborough, Mass., and in 1997 when D.C. United won the title against Colorado at RFK Stadium in the nation's capital. Let's make it an annual event. Now.
MLS and U.S. Soccer are working hard to appease FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Before the game, commissioner Don Garber announced that the league will now seriously consider changing its schedule to an August-to-May format to conform with the international soccer calendar. Why? Simple: The U.S. is trying to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup, and the FIFA vote takes place on Dec. 2 in Zürich, Switzerland. Whenever I have asked Blatter for his thoughts on how U.S. soccer has developed since hosting World Cup '94 --as I did at a Confederations Cup press event in 2009 -- the first thing Blatter has said is that MLS needs to join the international calendar. (If you could believe it, Blatter even brought up the matter with President Obama during a private visit in the Oval Office last year.) By publicizing that MLS is considering the change, Garber is no doubt hoping that it will win points for U.S. Soccer's World Cup bid.
Moving from eight to 10 teams for the 2011 playoffs is a bad idea. Garber also announced that the new MLS playoff format next year will add two teams as the league expands from 16 to 18 teams overall. I don't like this plan at all. The MLS regular season is already devalued enough by the playoffs, and this will just make it worse. For the first time this season it was actually an accomplishment for a team to make the playoffs. Now? You'll see some very mediocre teams reaching the postseason next year -- and more chances for those teams to get hot and make a run to the MLS Cup final.
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