Posted by: mdegeorge | November 22, 2010

MLS Cup flies a scintillating banner for American soccer

Sunday here in the States is reserved for football—the one played with the oblong pigskin.

Tonight though, save for the magnetism of Colts-Patriots, my attention was drawn to that other version of football—you know, the one all those foreigners enjoy so much.

My attentiveness was thoroughly rewarded with a titillating MLS final won by the Colorado Rapids, 2-1, over the FC Dallas.

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 21: Conor Casey  of the Colorado Rapids scores against Jair Benitez  and Kevin Hartman  of FC Dallas during the second half of the 2010 MLS Cup match at BMO Field on November 21, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

I harbor as much skepticism as any towards MLS’s claims that it is a major player on the international soccer scene, often failing to keep my attention on most games not involving the Philadelphia Union.

But anyone with even the basest appreciation of the pure excitement in sports is foolish if not impressed with the offerings of MLS Cup finals in recent years. The 2007 grudge match between Houston and New England was a classic. Ditto last year’s tilt won by Real Salt Lake over LA Galaxy.

The latest installment was no different. My guess is even those soccer purists who are only satiated by the finest vintages of the English Premier League and Champions’ League cellars left this telecast nodding in approval. On pure excitement and poetic drama alone, it ranked easily above any of the four major sports championships contested this calendar year.

There weren’t any designated players or superstars in the lineup in Toronto. Instead, on display were two teams that relied on strong team tactics and a concerted approach to winning matches.

The international flavor was evident, with players from 13 nations represented. These aren’t just the pick of the American collegiate litter or an amalgamation of the Western hemisphere’s second tier of players; on the field were players ranging from Japan to Jamaica, St. Kitts to Senegal. There were players from Scotland, France, and Argentina who brought experience from matches played on the European continent.

The play itself was nothing short of amazing. Dallas took the early lead through a sublimely toe-poked goal from MLS MVP David Ferreira in the 34th minute before Colorado’s Conor Casey equalized by slotting home a loose ball in the box to send the match to overtime.

In the second extra session, what looked like a centering pass from Colorado’s Macoumba Kandji found the leg of the Dallas defender George John and fluttered into the back of the net to set up a heart-stopping final 13 minutes.

Consider the scenes that played out:

Kandji, after being clattered into on the goal, unable to continue, lies prone on the pitch for several minutes unable to even celebrate, and courageously tries to return to action before crumbling in a heap on the sidelines.

Colorado, now fighting to hold the lead with ten men, intensifying its tackling efforts on every challenge despite exhausted legs.

Dallas forward Atiba Harris and his bandaged head launching one foray after another into the Colorado penalty area.

Dallas midfielder Daniel Hernandez hobbling up field on his one good knee.

Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman, after struggling through the season with an injured knee that has left him unable to take his own goal kicks, grimacing in pain after putting as much muscle behind a long ball as he can tolerate.

John, in a bid for ultimate redemption, fires a shot that is fought off by Colorado keeper Matt Pickens.

Drew Moor, the stalwart MLS defender and former Dallas player, clearing a sure goal off the line from the foot of former Colorado player Jeff Cunningham.

After 123 minutes, a Colorado team that had won only one of the 12 matches this season in which it conceded the first goal and hadn’t overcome a halftime deficit for a victory in 30 matches, etched its name for the first time onto the MLS Cup.

Were it a World Series game or the Super Bowl, the festivities would have elicited paroxysms of joy from every major media outlet, an Instant Classic replay tomorrow evening on ESPNClassic, and a book from one of ESPN’s staff writers.

Instead, it’s just left as another victory for those able to look past the odious notion of MLS soccer and enjoy the unadulterated passion of a great bout between two worthy adversaries on any field of play.

Tonight, that’s just plenty.

<div style=”text-align:center;”><a href=”; target=”_blank”><img src=”; border=”0″ width=”500″ title=”2010 MLS Cup – FC Dallas v Colorado Rapids” height=”332″ oncontextmenu=”return false;” ondrag=”return false;” onmousedown=”return false;” alt=”TORONTO, ON – NOVEMBER 21: Conor Casey  of the Colorado Rapids scores against Jair Benitez  and Kevin Hartman  of FC Dallas during the second half of the 2010 MLS Cup match at BMO Field on November 21, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)” /></a></div><script type=”text/javascript” src=””></script&gt;

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