As a sporting spectacle, Sunday’s MLS Cup final at a less-than-full BMO Field was hardly dramatic or brimming with entertainment value.
But that will hardly matter to the Colorado Rapids, who claimed their first Major League Soccer championship with a 2-1 extra-time win over FC Dallas on a chilly Sunday night in Toronto before an announced crowd of 21,700 spectators.
Substitute Macoumba Kandji was the hero for Colorado, his shot in the 108th minute from in-close deflecting off the knee of Dallas defender George John and past stranded goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
In doing so, Kandji helped to deliver a first league championship for the Rapids, whose only previous appearance in the MLS Cup was a 2-1 loss to D.C. United in 1997.
Former Toronto FC forward Conor Casey, who netted the tying goal for the Rapids early in the second half, was voted the game’s MVP.
Kandji’s moment of glory did little to save what was a scrappy game that was long on physical combativeness and short on genuine quality. That it was a fortuitous own-goal that decided the matter was fitting.
Maybe you can’t really fault the players for what was a dire display in game that never found its rhythm.
Maybe the cold weather (seven degrees celcius at kickoff) was to blame. Or player fatigue after a lengthy season. Or maybe referee Baldomero Toledo, who made a rash of questionable decisions and just as many contentious non-calls.
Or maybe MLS would have better served if its two glamour clubs, the Los Angeles Galaxy (featuring David Beckham) and New York Red Bulls (with Thierry Henry), lent their respective star power to the proceedings.
Whatever the reason, this one won’t be remembered fondly, falling well short of the standard of exciting and gripping MLS Cup finals in past years.
Both teams came into Sunday’s final with their reputations of playing open and attacking soccer preceding them, but it was hardly evidenced on this night.
“I just think there was pressure and a lot of physical play. The thing with physical play is it’s disruptive,” said Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman.
Hyndman’s counterpart agreed with that assessment as to why the game failed to live up to expectations.
“We limited a very talented group of players to next to nothing. We still showed capabilities ourselves. However, I’m not sure that was the greatest viewing for the fans because it was such a cut-and-thrust game,” admitted Colorado coach Gary Smith.
After both teams threatened to score in the opening 10 minutes, the game quickly settled down with quality scoring chances few and far between.
Colorado appeared to have won a penalty midway through the half when Casey was tripped inside the box after tussling with Dallas defender Jair Benitez. But Toldeo didn’t rule it a foul and waved play on.
The deadlock was broken with 10 minutes left in the first half courtesy of a beautiful sweeping move by Dallas.
Benitez played a gorgeous cross-field ball to Marvin Chavez, who went on a probing run down the right side before whipping a perfect cross deep into the heart of Colorado’s box. League MVP David Ferreira managed to give his defensive marker the slip and connected on a sublime left-footed volley that flew past goalkeeper Matt Pickens.
It was the only true moment of inspiration in the contest.
The Rapids tied things up in the 57th minute. A ball from the left wing was played into the box at the near post, and Casey, while sitting on the ground after falling over, poked it by Hartman after a bit of scramble.
Colorado nearly took the lead four minutes later, only to see Hartman make an outstanding diving save on a long-range shot from Jeff Larentowicz.
The game developed into a real scrap-fest, with plenty of lunging tackles and feisty play for the duration of regulation time.
After a goal-less opening 15 minutes of extra time, Kandji settled the matter when he slipped the ball through the legs one of a Dallas player before firing a chip shot that redirected off John and into the back of the net.
John nearly redeemed himself late in the game with a shot that was headed for the corner. But Pickens got down low and made a highlight-reel stop to deny Dallas an equalizing goal and preserve Colorado’s historic win.