No Beckham, no Donovan, no Henry, no Marquez.
The star-laden MLS Cup final Major League Soccer and Toronto organizers hoped for never materialized. David Beckham still has never played a competitive game in Toronto. And Thierry Henry will next strap on his boots north of the border in 2011.
Thus, the Toronto soccer community is left to choose between the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas to support in Sundayís Cup final.
For the casual observer, the game will not resonate. But for the curious neutral, there is plenty to excite. Dallasí counter-attacking brand based on speed across the park will be in stark contrast to Coloradoís superior organization and traditional style running through their dynamic strike-partnership.
And if that doesnít whet the soccer appetite, perhaps eternal hope will. The Toronto FC supporter, desperate for club success needs not look any further than the championship match for reason to believe better days lie ahead. Colorado and Dallas both missed the playoffs last year, with the latter tied for the third worst record in MLS in 2009.
In fact, two different teams are playing for the MLS Cup final for a fourth straight year. Like it or not, eight different finalists in four years is a testament to the balance in competitiveness in the salary capped 16-team league.
Dallasí playoff form, knocking out last yearís champion Real Salt Lake, followed by a dismantling of the favoured L.A. Galaxy gives credence to its record-setting 19-game unbeaten streak during the season. FCD has gone from a team that can stick in games (14 regular-season ties was an MLS high), to a team that can win them.
Buoyed by the outstanding performances of MVP front-runner David Ferreira, goal scoring was never an issue during a disappointing 2009; FCD led MLS in goals for with 50, but also conceded 47.
FCD cut their goals against by 19 this season; a testament to MLS coach of the year Schellas Hyndman getting the most out of an depleted roster. Case and point: Stand-out starting left-back Heath Pearce has missed the last month with a hamstring injury, yet Hyndmanís side hasnít lost a step. His 4-5-1 system has masked deficiencies in a squad, largely unchanged from a year ago.
Dallas biggest addition this year from last has been goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who single-handedly kept Dallas in the Western final making multiple game-saving saves early. The 36-year old Kansas City Wizards cast-offís style is anything but pretty, but the veteran has shown his shot-blocking ability remains top-notch.
Hartman was on the verge of retirement before a final hour trade brought him to Dallas during the off-season. After contract talks broke off with the Wizards, Hyndman prudently swooped in, and all it cost Dallas was a second round Super Draft pick.
In Colorado, the Rapids first-round playoff win over the Columbus Crew has an uncanny resemblance to Real Salt Lakeís successful run to MLS Cup glory a year ago. It can be argued with the best strike partnership in MLS; Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, the Rapids may not be such a long shot to win their first MLS Cup.
The duo have been playing together since 2007 and scored a combined 27 goals this season. Cummings, in particular, had a stand-out 2010 and should have been an MVP finalist. In the Eastern Conference final, Cummings was a menace and was unlucky to find the score-sheet multiple times.
Behind Cummings and Casey is an unheralded midfield. Pablo Mastroeni has been a stalwart in Colorado for years. His influence has become even more pronounced with the mid-season arrival of Brian Mullan. The 32-year old, a four-time MLS Cup winner, has provided proper service from the right-side of midfield, giving Colorado a more balanced attack, which it so desperately needed.
It also should be noted projected blustery conditions and a game-time temperature hovering around the freezing mark gives Colorado a discernable advantage over it warm-weathered foe.