TORONTO -- The final whistle of the 2010 Major League Soccer Cup in Toronto resulted in elation for one team, disappointment for another and heartbreak for a centreback that played an otherwise strong match.
It also marked a coming-out party for one of the league's future stars.
The Colorado Rapids won their first MLS Cup Sunday night by narrowly defeating FC Dallas in extra time on a goal by Rapids substitute Macoumba Kandji. The Senegalese-born attacker threaded the ball through the legs of FC Dallas left-back Jair Benitez before the ball deflected off the chest of central defender George John and past keeper Kevin Hartman. The 108th-minute goal sealed Colorado's first ever MLS Championship on a cold, windy night where the conditions had the upper-hand.
The opening 25 minutes featured two teams struggling to find their rhythm and adapt to the conditions. The tone quickly changed in the 27th minute when Colorado Rapids striker and U.S. international Conor Casey was brought down in the box by a questionable tackle from Dallas left-back Jair Benitez that the head official Baldomero Toledo waved off.
Following the altercation in the box, the pace of the match increased and FC Dallas was rewarded in the 35th minute. David Ferreira raced into the box to meet a perfectly-timed cross from the right side by Marvin Chavez that struck the twine of the netting on one touch, narrowly missing the outreached arms of Colorado keeper Matt Pickens.
The match desperately needed a goal to inject some life into the final, and Ferreira's goal did exactly that.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first, with a slow, calculated pace that was marred by the increasingly difficult conditions. Dallas continued to emphasize on their strong midfield, while Colorado continuously sought out the services of the strike tandem of Casey and Omar Cummings. The power and aerial skills of Casey and the pace of Cummings wreaked havoc on the central defensive pairing of John and Ugo Ihemelu until the 57th minute, when the Rapids finally found the break they needed. A cross from the boot of Rapids midfielder Jamie Smith was deflected by the keeper before falling at the feet of Casey, who amidst the melee had fallen and scored a crafty number while seated on the BMO Field turf.
Casey had scored a much deserved goal, and with a little more than half an hour remaining, the 2010 MLS Cup had finally turned into the even affair that was expected.
Now deadlocked at 1-1, the pace slowed again, with both FC Dallas and Colorado's central defenders making several match-saving plays. Former Toronto FC fullback Marvel Wynne deserves a lot of credit for his solid play that was recognized by the fans who continuously cheered his efforts.
The second half ended with a 1-1 score, requiring 30 minutes of extra time that allowed substitute Kandji to score his fortunate goal in the second half of the bonus action to lift the Rapids to the victory.
While those not familiar with Major League Soccer may feel that having a championship match void of marquee teams starring designated players and household names such as Galaxy midfielder David Beckham and Red Bull striker Thierry Henry takes away from the result, the appearance by two of the league's original teams, who between them have zero designated players and a fierce rivalry, is exactly what commissioner Don Garber had in mind.
Following a brilliant season highlighted by a mere four losses and plenty of accolades and awards, the whole of FC Dallas is understandably disappointed to have come this far only to leave with nothing. FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman was awarded the Coach of the Year on Friday, while Ferreira was named the MLS MVP of the 2010 season at an awards ceremony in Toronto.
Critics of FC Dallas would suggest that having more draws (14) than wins (12) would be the antithesis of a championship club, however one can't ignore that they suffered just a league-tying low four losses and only one of those came at FC's Pizza Hut Park. Also, don't forget that earlier in the season FC Dallas set an MLS record with a 19-match unbeaten streak that set a tone of consistency that set the table for the playoff march.
However, on a cold Sunday night in Toronto, the Colorado Rapids were the better team. Colorado overcame a mid-season slump that featured just one win in 10 matches, only to recover by suffering a mere two losses in its final ten matches by playing a steady brand of football.
Casey was awarded MVP of the MLS Cup for his efforts; however the star of the match was Kandji, who in a mere fifteen minutes scored the goal of a lifetime before leaving with a left knee strain. Kandji's story is an interesting tale of perseverance that epitomizes much of what the MLS stands for.
A native of Senegal, Kandji moved to Gambia before immigrating to Charlotte, North Carolina, only to have three A League franchises turn him down before he attended a military academy in Atlanta. He then moved up three levels of professional soccer and was signed by the New York Red Bull in 2008 prior to getting dealt to the Colorado Rapids for Mehdi Ballouchy. As his teammates celebrated with cheap champagne and cold American beer, Kandji sat in the trainer's room with his knee heavily taped, sporting quite possibly the world's biggest smile as he gleefully shared his exploits with family on the phone.
The rest of the story wrote itself on a blistery cold Sunday night in Toronto, as the Colorado Rapids completed a deserving victory in the 2010 MLS Cup.