MLS Cup Final Preview

CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 14: (L-R) The starting XI of FC Dallas pose for a group photo prior to the Western Conference Finals match against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the MLS playoffs at The Home Depot Center on November 14, 2010 in Carson, California. FC Dallas defeated the Galaxy 3-0 to advance to the MLS Cup Final match against the Colorado Rapids. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Sunday evening the MLS Playoffs’ stingiest squads collide in the MLS Cup Final. FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids have each let in just two goals in three postseason games, due in part to the inspirational play of their goalkeepers – Dallas’ Kevin Hartman and Colorado’s Matt Pickens. Despite the excellence of Hartman and Pickens, the match will swing on how the two squads cope with stars David Ferreira and Omar Cummings.

To determine how Colorado can frustrate Ferreira and Dallas stymie Cummings, below are pictures diagramming every playoff goal the teams have scored or conceded.

Solid lines indicate a pass, dotted lines show player movement, and a red line designates a shot.

Colorado 1 – Columbus 0 (1st leg)

A turnover at the midfield line gave Colorado time to swing a pass out to Cummings on Columbus’ left wing. The striker crossed to Conor Casey, who backheeled to Pablo Mastroeni. Brian Carroll (blue) failed to track Mastroeni’s run.

Colorado 0 – Columbus 1 (2nd leg)

Columbus was grateful for poor Colorado defending, which delivered their first tally of the playoffs. Both Guillermo Schelotto (blue) and Eddie Gaven (orange) were left alone in the box. The Argentine tapped a cross to Gaven just in front of goal.

Colorado 0 – Columbus 2 (2nd leg)

The TV broadcast’s camera angle made the build-up to this goal hard to see, but, basically, Robbie Rogers benefited from Colorado’s lackadaisical possession. After the Rapids turned the ball over at midfield, Rogers ran onto an Emmanuel Ekpo pass before sprinting into the penalty area.

Colorado 1 – Columbus 2 (2nd leg)

Colorado’s second playoff goal looked remarkably similar to their first. Cummings, on Columbus’ left, found Casey at the near post, and though Casey took a shot this time, Mastroeni (blue) was in position had the striker wanted to pass.

Colorado 1 – San Jose 0

Once more, the Rapids scored from a sequence on their opponent’s left flank. Cummings, inside the box and marked in blue, charged to the near post as right back Kosuke Kimura (orange) sent in a cross. The striker missed the fullback’s service, but the ball bounced into the net anyway.

FC Dallas 0 – Real Salt Lake 1 (1st leg)

Center back Jackson (blue) had an opportunity to close down Fabian Espindola (with the ball) before the striker scored. An innocuous, lofted pass had freed Espindola, and he then tricked Jackson by cutting back at the top of the eighteen. Shortly afterward, Jackson was moved to right back.

FC Dallas 1 – Real Salt Lake 1 (1st leg)

The Hoops picked up their luckiest goal of the postseason after Ferreira (in possession) tried to release Jeff Cunningham. An advantageous deflection fell into Cunningham’s path and he didn’t miss from a few yards out.

FC Dallas 2 – Real Salt Lake 1 (1st leg)

Ferreira, in blue, drew the attention of three Salt Lake defenders (two of them are standing right on top of each other), which gave Erica Avila (orange) space to burst through the midfield.

FC Dallas 1 – Real Salt Lake 0 (2nd leg)

Once again, Ferreira pulled the strings. Here, three defenders are eyeing Ferreira while one marks Cunningham. The attention paid to Ferreira left no one to cover Dax McCarty (orange). Winger Brek Shea chested down Ferreira’s cross into McCarty’s stride.

FC Dallas 1 – Real Salt Lake 1 (2nd leg)

This sequence marked rare mistakes for Ferreira (purple) and captain Daniel Hernandez (blue). Dallas’ skipper didn’t follow Robbie Findley (orange) as he ran into the box, and Ferreira, who ended the sequence much deeper than displayed, played Findley onside.

FC Dallas 1 – Los Angeles Galaxy 0

LA center back Omar Gonzalez (blue) feared Ferreira (purple) would blow by him if the defender strayed too close. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Ferreira, after receiving a pass from Marvin Chavez, simply took a quick shot.

FC Dallas 2 – Los Angeles Galaxy 0

Following a Dallas corner, center back Ugo Ihemulu released Shea into the box and, in what seems to be a theme, no one tracked an attacker’s run. In this case George John (blue) was the free man.

FC Dallas 3 – Los Angeles Galaxy 0

The final nail in LA’s coffin was courtesy of Ferreira (purple). After Atiba Harris held-up a long pass, Chavez (with the ball) and Ferreira’s simple one-two beat the offside trap.


What have we learned? Cummings often shifts to his right and Ferreira pops up all over. Consequently, Dallas left back Jair Benitez will need to be cautious moving forward, lest he strand a center back in a one-on-one with the speedy Cummings. Colorado shouldn’t have their midfielders shadow Ferreira (that’s assuming they use their normal 4-4-2). When squads break their shape to focus on the Colombian playmaker, he slips a pass to the area a defender vacated.

Even if Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman and Colorado gaffer Gary Smith read this article, they’re unlikely to depart from their preferred formations, a 4-4-2 for Smith and a 4-1-4-1 for Hyndman (FFG prefers to call it a 4-4-Ferreira-1). If by some miracle they happen to peruse FFG, here are a few more observations:

  • Both teams have had disturbing defensive breakdowns. Each has let in a goal off a set piece and a harmless-looking pass to a lone striker.
  • Brek Shea is back. After picking up a red card in September, Shea didn’t start a single match in the season’s final month. A playoff red for Atiba Harris thrust him back into the lineup, and he’s garnered two assists in his two starts.
  • Pablo Mastroeni likes to sneak into the box. On a counter, if Conor Casey charges to the near post, look for Mastroeni to inch towards the far post.
  • Jackson is vulnerable. If Heath Pearce isn’t available at right back (he’s been injured), Colorado could take advantage of the shaky Jackson.

Phew, so we might not have covered everything, but at least we’ve presented some food for thought.

Gringos, how do you feel tomorrow night’s match will play out? Will the teams be able to shut down Ferriera and Cummings?

A turnover at the midfield line gave Colorado time to swing a pass out to Omar Cummings on Columbus’ left wing. The striker crossed to Conor Casey, who backheeled to Pablo Mastroeni. Bryan Carroll (SP? In blue) failed to follow Mastroeni’s run.

6 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bradley's Receding Hairline says:

    Wowza that’s a lot of info! I’m sure you Frisco folks are ready for the game. I don’t see how Colorado can deal with Dallas’ formation, unless they get an early goal and pack it in.

  2. AG says:

    Great play break down and analysis. I saw most of the games. But I was able to understand even the games I did not see from your diagrams. Much appreciated. Would love to see more of this in the future.

    Great Job. And btw, My money is on Dallas. They have too much momentum.

  3. bensten says:

    It is extremely insightful to see each goal laid out at once! Dallas backs have shown they can stay back when under orders, and they’ll need to to contain Cummings, like you said.

    Interestingly, COLO’s 4-4-2 will have to deal will the same issues LA’s did. Like you said, it’s almost a lose/lose for them with Ferreira. If they man mark him tightly (I really don’t see who could in the CO midfield) he’ll use the space for outlet passes. To be honest, if I had advice for CO, it would be to replace one of their strikers with an extra midfielder, at lease for the first half. They’ll need to stay behind the ball and play defensively. Even though Casey is a good target man I think he’s the one who should drop…

    To be honest, though, Dallas has the momentum going in, and their confidence is high. Hyndman will balance that with caution, but I don’t foresee a boring final.

  4. Anonymous says:

    i hope this game is like the 3rd place game from the World Cup. with the way both team’s defenses seem to break down occasionally, it could possibly open up the game to that high voltage sort of play.

    • Blake Owen says:

      The games could end up being tactically similar, too. Germany played a 4-2-3-1 and Uruguay a 4-4-2. To combat Germany’s advantage in midfield, Diego Forland dropped deep.

      Of course, Conor Casey is no Diego Forlan.

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