Colorado 2-1 Dallas (AET): Cruel own goal settles the MLS Cup Final
Colorado emerged victorious after a tight game that could have gone either way.
Dallas lined up in a broad 4-1-4-1 / 4-2-3-1 system that featured captain Daniel Hernandez playing as a very deep-lying midfield ahead of the back four, and star man David Ferreira drifting around in a free role behind the main striker, Atiba Harris. On the left, Brek Shea played high up the pitch and slightly central, whilst on the right Marvin Chavez hugged the touchline.
Colorado started with a 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2 shape that was vaguely similar to the system the US played at the World Cup. Omar Cummings drifted from flank to flank to provide width when not in possession, with Conor Casey more of a target man. Jeff Laurentowicz was the anchorman in midfield.
Both sides used relatively deep defensive lines, which meant that there was little hope of playing balls in behind the defences. The midfield zone was stretched across the length of the pitch and the lack of pressing meant that defenders generally got plenty of time on the ball.
The same was true for the deeper-lying midfielders, in particular Hernandez, who is both a midfield terrier when not in possession, and a very decent playmaker when he does have the ball. The main difference between the sides was how quickly they looked to get the ball forward. Hernandez sprayed the ball out to the flanks quickly where Dallas had two dangerous wide players – in particular the tricky right-winger Chavez.
Colorado were more compact and more cohesive, but struggled to create real chances early on. The two wide players drifted inside -Brian Mullen was generally in central positions, whilst Jamie Smith cut in onto his stronger foot. They played with less width than Dallas, though this meant their ball retention was better.
Dallas take lead
This lack of Colorado width also helped Dallas get their full-backs forward into good positions in the early stages. Jair Benitez motored forward to create the first chance of the game with a cross in from the left, whilst the Brazilian right-back Jackson was slightly more conservative, but supported Chavez well.
It was Chavez who provided the cross for the opening goal, scored by Ferreira. It was Dallas’ desire to hit the ball forward quickly that made the chance – Benitez hit a 60-yard crossfield ball to Chavez, and his cross was perfect, in behind the defence.
Colorado hit back
The equaliser for Colorado came after half-time when Dallas failed to double up on Smith, who for once picked up the ball in a wide position. He breezed past his full-back and knocked a ball across for Casey, who converted the loose ball. It was an unusual method of attack from Colorado, and in a sense it was quite unintentional – the ball had been knocked into a wide position because of a Dallas mistake, and Smith’s speed and trickery on the ball in that position invites questions about why Colorado didn’t try and play him wider, and get the ball to him quicker.
Dallas probably had the better of the game at 1-1. The reasons for this were two-fold – firstly, Dax McCarty moved into a deeper position, giving Dallas more of a double pivot (rather than leaving Hernandez, who picked up a knock but continued) on his own in that position. Secondly, because they introduced Jeff Cunningham for the ineffectual Shea, and played more of a fluid system upfront – Chavez moved to the left (although this took away the option of his crossing) and Harris moved to the right. They essentially switched to a formation that looked more like 4-2-3-1, and generally had an extra man in midfield to play around Colorado.
That said, neither played particularly good football in the second half. This owed much to the stop-start nature of the game – substitutions and stoppages for injuries both disrupted the flow and rhythm of the game, whilst both sides became slightly more conservative towards the end of 90 minutes, fearful of conceding the crucial late goal.
In extra time the systems remained broadly the same – though Colorado stepped it up with the introduction of Macoumba Kandji in place of Cummings – his energy gave Colorado more of a grip on the game and forced Dallas back. “Fresh legs upfront” was how Gary Smith thought his Colorado side would eventually win the game in his pre-extra time interview, and it was the fresh legs of Kandji that eventually got the breakthrough, via a huge slice of luck. His trickery took him past Benitez, then his stabbed cross deflected ludicrously off George John and flipped into the net.
Kandji was injured in creating the goal and had to depart meaning Colorado played the remainder of the game with ten men, and Dallas threw everyone forward late on. They actually created more chances than Colorado in the extra time period, and John went inches away from scoring an equaliser when Matt Pickens turned his shot around the post.
There was nothing to separate the two sides. A draw at full-time was an accurate reflection of the game, and the nature of the winning goal further illustrated how tight the game was.
It was a good clash between two sides similar in ability but differing in strategy; Dallas played direct football with width, Colorado played narrower and passed the ball more in midfield. The most important zone of the pitch was the centre of midfield – which was actually quite a large zone, since the game was so stretched.
The two most dangerous players both belonged to Dallas – Chavez and Ferreira, and they combined well for the first goal, but both tired as the game went into extra-time.