Posted: Thursday November 18, 2010 8:06AM ; Updated: Thursday November 18, 2010 12:05PM
Steve Davis
Steve Davis>INSIDE SOCCER

2010 MLS Cup final preview

Story Highlights

The 15th MLS Cup trophy will be lifted by a first-time winner in Colorado or Dallas

With Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, Colorado has a top striker tandem

Dallas' possession-based scheme revolves around playmaker David Ferreira

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Kevin Hartman
Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman was near unbeatable this season, recording a 0.62 goals against average.
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

For a second consecutive year, Major League Soccer will crown a first-time champion. Either FC Dallas or the Colorado Rapids, each having swept away higher seeded opponents en route, will break new ground by lifting the league's 15th MLS Cup trophy.

FC Dallas will be favored Sunday in Toronto (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), where temperatures for the nationally televised evening kickoff are expected to be in the high 30s -- with a chance of showers adding something else for the clubs to worry about. League officials will even have a bag of orange soccer balls handy in case any fluffy white stuff falls. It is November in Canada, after all.

Along the way to its first MLS Cup appearance, FC Dallas removed reigning champ Real Salt Lake and the Supporters Shield winner Los Angeles from the title chase. The team from Texas that previously had not won a postseason series since 1999 seems suddenly to have outgrown the underdog clothes it wore so well over two playoff rounds.

It's not hard to see why oddsmakers like Dallas: a speedy team with resolve and the calm discipline of its coach, who also happens to be a martial arts master, has two exceptional difference-makers. League MVP finalist David Ferreira recorded eight goals and 13 assists this year while goalkeeper Kevin Hartman obliterated the record for goals against average. Hartman allowed 0.62 goals a game, or just more than one every two matches.

But if Colorado is slightly less fancied, Gary Smith's team certainly can't be pigeonholed as some prohibitive underdog. Not with the league's top striker tandem of the past two years operating at such high capacity. Conor Casey and Omar Cummings combined for 51 goals over the past two regular seasons.

Neither team has a rich history of achievement. Dallas won the 1997 U.S. Open Cup and Colorado was league runner-up that year, and that's about it. So one team will make brilliant club history Sunday at BMO Field.

Position-by-position breakdown

Goalkeeper: Who knew what serendipity would lay ahead for Hartman after Kansas City surprised everyone in January by dumping the veteran 'keeper? He was good for the Wizards in 2009, even getting a call-up into a January U.S. national team camp. But Kansas City officials thought they had something better and off-loaded him. K.C. didn't make the playoffs this year; Dallas, meanwhile, certainly wouldn't be where it is today without Hartman's heroics.

He was always a good shot-stopper, even if he wasn't always tip-top when asked to stray out of the six. This year he wasn't just a good shot-stopper; he was an extraordinary one. Hartman also has two MLS Cups (both with Los Angeles before his move to K.C.) and helps Dallas with terrific communication in the defensive third.

"Schellas [Hyndman, the Dallas coach] came to me at an awkward time late in the preseason and was willing to give me an opportunity to continue to play," Hartman said. "And so I really feel like on some perspectives, I'm playing on borrowed time, and sometimes it allows you to play a little bit freer and clear of mind."

Colorado's No. 1, Matt Pickens, was just what the Rapids needed, someone to manage goal with a little less drama than Colorado had seen in the less-stable Bouna Coundoul era. Pickens' reassuring season hasn't included as many match-turning moments as Hartman's, but he's a solid piece of a good team.

Advantage: FC Dallas

Defenders: Marvell Wynne had hit a plateau in Toronto. Drew Moor had fallen out of favor in Dallas. But Wynne and Moor have coalesced into a heady and steady center-back pairing for the Rapids, proving to be two more of Smith's smart personnel moves.

Wynne has been an especially intriguing figure this year, having moved into the middle after nearly 100 MLS matches at right back. He has the leaping ability to deal with bigger forwards in aerial skirmishes and possesses the recovery and closing speed that's a friend to any defender. Moor, meanwhile, just had one of the most complete seasons from any MLS center back. He's been solid all year in both primary elements of a defender's game: stop and distribute.

Rapids right back Kosuke Kimura doesn't score many goals, but he nailed a darned important one last week, supplying a cross that squeezed fortuitously past San Jose's far post to put Colorado through. Technically proficient, he likes to scoot forward when he can. So does Anthony Wallace on the left, although the former FC Dallas man (he moved west in a trade just this year) can get nipped occasionally by inattentive positioning. It cost Colorado in the first round when Wallace's inaccurate reading of one sequence let Robbie Rogers break away to score for Columbus.

It's no coincidence that Dallas began leaking more goals in October when first-choice center backs George John and Ugo Ihemelu were out with injuries. Both were highly effective in last week's surprising 3-0 win over Los Angeles, gobbling up the probing balls as L.A. began going direct. They also dealt physically with high-scoring striker Edson Buddle.

On the outside, Jair Benitez is perhaps the league's most gifted attacking left back, regularly combining to effect with midfielders Brek Shea and Ferreira. Impressive rookie Zach Loyd and versatile young Brazilian Jackson will again be the choices to replace injured U.S. international Heath Pearce, who was so strong at right back this year. Jackson struggled a bit with Landon Donovan last week, and probably isn't quite the defender that Loyd is. But Jackson is a better passer; Dallas' tidy possession takes a small hit when Loyd plays there.

Advantage: Colorado

 
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