The MLS Cup Experience by: Roy Tewell – Rapids Staff Member/ FC Denver Player
where to start….
The Rapids Front Office had got a charter flight for the entire team (players & coaching staff), front office, plus players’ families, girlfriends, etc. We took off Thursday morning from the Signature terminal at DIA and were off to Toronto. Talk about a nice flight, all the sandwiches, candy, drinks, etc that you could want. It was great to see how focused the team was even on the flight as they had the front of the plane while staff/families occupied the back.
We’ll skip Thursday thru Saturday as that was filled with league parties and site seeing, and head straight to Sunday. We got over to BMO field around 5:45 or so and went directly to a bar in the area that the Toronto FC Supporters had reserved in honor of the traveling Colorado Rapids supporters. The place was filled with Burgundy jerseys, t-shirts, scarves, hat, flags etc, and also a large contingent of TFC supporters as well. The drinks were flowing and so was the atmosphere as each supporter’s group sang their songs and chants for the match, the best of which was when the TFC fans broke out into their Marvell Wynne chant which during the game was added inspiration. As the match drew closer, the Bulldog, Class VI, and Pid Army supporters departed for the stadium march as staffers held back to get those last few drinks of inspiration.
We made our way to BMO field, in all reality a glorified high school stadium, but packs the atmosphere of a large European football match. As we enter the stadium, the place is buzzing, and for me personally having worked at FC Dallas 3 years prior to working in Colorado, this match had added emotion. I see a few old co-workers and make our way up to Section 226 in the upper corner. As the national anthems are sung by everyone in the crowd, nerves take over. 35 minutes into the game, the ball gets whipped in and FC Dallas scores, SH*T! I see them run to the corner and celebrate as the Rapids get the ball and bring it back to midfield. (This is the best): As odd as it sounds, I have had a feeling about our team all year that regardless what the score was, our guys could make it back and come back in match. The halftime whistle blows and we head down to the concourse.
For the 2nd half we (my mom and Kirsten plus college teammate from Toronto) decide there is only one section to be in, and that is with the supporters. Our entire front office staff, supporters and Rapids fans alike are now seated behind the North Goal, in full embrace looking to the far end. 57 minutes in and we see the ball in front of the box, and all of a sudden it is in! As the Rapids song goes, “put the ball into the net — and we will all go mental“, and that is exactly what happened. I may have blacked out when we scored, but I know that we were all hugging one another in celebration. As the match goes on, the tension builds and finally the whistle blows… indicating we are heading to overtime.
As OT arrives and we see Mac Kandji coming in I get a good feeling that this is it. The way our guys are playing, the support of our fans, it is going to propel us to victory. As the 1st overtime period ends, we continue to believe in an elusive goal that will bring us the trophy. As the ball gets diagonally-played across field by Casey, Mac efficiently brings the ball down to his feet, beats Benitez with a timely meg and lunges to get a glancing direction on the ball. We watched… Will it go in? Is it wide? We see the net move; WE HAVE SCORED!! (I get chills as I write this even because) Our entire section goes crazy, we are going to get the cup!
For the next 10 minutes we stand like a wall behind our goalkeeper Matt Pickens as he makes save after save, and with three minutes of stoppage to go he makes the save of a lifetime. George John turns and hit a low driven ball towards the corner – destined to take the game to PK’s, and then JESUS SAVES! There are a few more close instances where Dallas comes close to scoring, and then one of them (Flick-on by Dax) goes over the bar. Pickens collects the ball, places it for the goal kick, could this be it?? The ball goes in the air and we see the referee’s whistle blow, cue the madness! Our section erupts, I hug my mom and Kirsten, while our entire section is overwhelmed with emotion. There is not a dry eye in the entire section as the players celebrate in front of us with the trophy.
To try and recap what that day was like is near impossible,
but I do hope that by sharing this experience that you can gain a feeling of what is was like to be in Toronto on Championship Sunday as the Rapids accomplished the impossible. For Denver sports fans, this is something we all share, and I can only hope that this continues to grow the sport of soccer in our thriving community. For all those that play the game, continue to work to follow and support this sport in Denver, WE ARE ALL MLS CUP CHAMPIONS!
We are proud to introduce our new FC Denver Member-Writer, and Rabid Rapids Fan, Ian Campbell. Ian is a big part of FC Denver ‘GREEN ARMY BLOG’ Vision of covering Denver and Colorado Soccer in 2011 and beyond. Please check back often to get the latest word about our fun, enlightening, and informative blog…
Written by Ian Campbell –
There’s a saying that finds its way into many of the numerous emails FC Denver players receive from Club President Eric Fulton: winners find a way to win. It seems that the saying isn’t really a secret and it somehow got leaked to the Colorado Rapids. On a chilly night in Toronto the Rapids gutted out a game that for long stretches looked out of reach, and found a way to bring the MLS cup home to Colorado.
MLS CUP – 2010 @ BMO Field Toronto, CN :
The opening minutes of the match showed the nerves and energy that each team had built up in the week preceding the match. Dallas was able to find an open header in Colorado’s box in the first 30 seconds, sending it a few feet wide of the net. Neither team was able to link much together due to errant touches and high pressure from the opposing side. The teams came ready to finish their tackles and the opening minutes certainly tested referee Baldomero Toledo (centering the MLS Cup for the 2nd time in 3 seasons). Brian Mullan was able to get in behind Dallas’ defense in the seventh minute, but his shot was disappointingly right at Kevin Hartman, who handled it comfortably. The Rapids were the first team to settle into the flow of the game and began to control the ebb and flow about 10 minutes into the half. But possession without chances isn’t worth a damn and Dallas was able to keep Colorado out of the attacking third. Each Rapids attack was punctuated by an ambitious attempt from the middle third of the field to spring either Conor Casey or Omar Cummings.
Nothing particularly threatening emerged from these attempts and Dallas settled in to their role as counter-attackers, content to let Colorado possess the ball (as long as it was outside their box). Colorado seemed to break through in the 27th minute when Conor Casey battled (and beat) Dallas’ defender Jair Benitez and appeared to be running on goal from the endline when he pulled down by a fallen Benitez. Baldomero Toledo was in position around the penalty marker but did not call for a penalty. Fans howled for his head after every replay, certain that they had been denied their rightful chance at a lead. Casey’s effort to win the ball, battling through two Dallas defenders to gain an advantage, set a tone for his play that would last throughout the game. Looking back through burgundy-colored glasses, some of the replays show that Conor may have embellished the contact, but the referee was certainly not in position to see this.
Dallas was able to break the 0-0 tie on a counter-attack in the 35th minute. An amazing switch of the ball by the previously victimized Benitez from the left side of Dallas’ defense put Marvin Chavez 15 yards clear of any Rapids defender and streaking down the right side. As he approached the 18 yard box, Anthony Wallace closed down a little bit, but gave him as much time as he could possibly use. From the corner of the box Chavez fed a ball bending away from the goal onto a streaking David Ferreira, which he brilliantly struckout of the air from the six yard box just over an outstretched Matt Pickens, who had come off his line to try and clear the cross. Ferreira had snuck in between Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne, and how the Colorado defense left the league’s MVP free in their box will be a question for the offseason once the celebrations die down. In all fairness, Ferreira has made this an MVP year by showing up in unexpected places so it wasn’t as if Moor and Wynne were his first victims.
The remainder of the half saw high pressure from Colorado, looking for an equalizer before half time. On the possession following Dallas’ goal, Omar Cummings was able to let loose a shot from the corner of the penalty box, sending it just over the left corner of the goal. A foot lower and it surely would have found the net. A few minutes later Chavez was able to dispossess Pablo Mastroeni and rip a shot from 30 yards that bounced awkwardly before Pickens pushed it wide. The half finished with a yellow card for Colorado’s Wallace after he slid through Chavez to win the ball.
The halftime mood for Colorado fans was cautious optimism. Coming back from 1-0 wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle. We had controlled the ball well in the first and only given up a goal on a counter-attack with some poor defensive choices. Then again, the Rapids had only generated a few chances and from what we saw in the Western Conference finals, Kevin “Backstreet N’Sync of 98˚” Hartman had the skill to single handedly push Dallas to a win.
It looked fairly bleak in the first minutes of the second half. Colorado, for all their vinegar, could not generate quality chances to score and Jamie Smith was booked in the 51st minute for a professional foul as Dax McCarty was carrying the ball out of Dallas’ end. But four minutes later, Smith went looking for redemption after a cross was cleared from Dallas’ box. Receiving the ball about 25 yards off the endline along the left side of the box, a deft touch and quick move broke McCarty’s ankles and left him with a clear line to the goal line and teammates streaking into to the goal. He went looking for Conor Casey at the near post with a cross along the ground and Hartman, Casey, and Ugo Ihemelu converged on the ball. In the mix, all three ended up on the ground with no clear sight of the ball. Casey was the first to spot it and with a bit of skill learned in grade school crab soccer, poked it into the back of the net to bring Colorado equal! Denver and all of Colorado erupted in a roar. Glassware was broken, streamers thrown, confetti tossed in the air, and songs of praise were sung. “CONOR CASEY RAPID’S NUMBER 9! HE RUNS AS IF HIS BOOTS WERE LEAD, CONOR, CONOR, HE PUTS THE RAZER TO HIS HEAD, CONOR, CONOR, HE USED TO PLAY IN GERMANY BUT NOW HE’S BACK AT DSG, CONOR CASEY RAPID’S NUMBER NINE!” How fitting that Denver’s own hero, from South High School, had brought the boys back into the game. A whole new game at 1-1 in the 56th minute!
The game hit a whole new level now that the teams were level. You could feel the intensity pick up between the teams. When Jeff Larentowicz fired a free kick from 30 yards out on the left sidein the 62nd minute, it looked as if Colorado would take the lead. On a roll from Mastroeni, Larentowicz hit a powerful right footed strike that was bending from left to right. And somehow, Kevin “Who ate all the pies?” Hartman was able to get a firm hand on it just as the ball struck the ground, pushing it just wide of the net.
This was a momentum changer in the game. Colorado had regained some vigor after the goal and now it was their time to shine. They had a certain swagger characteristic of winners. Conor Casey was pushing defenders out of the way to win balls, looking more like a Lucha libre at times than the goal scoring powerhouse he has been this year. Larentowicz and Mastroeni shut down the midfield defensively, forcing Ferreira to the flanks, where his playmaking abilities were less of an immediate threat to Colorado. Dallas’ only real chances at this time came from set pieces, which Baldomero Toledo started giving them in spades. The ensuing scrambles saw some scary moments for fans as Colorado time after time found a way to get in front of shots at the last moment or clear bouncing balls from the box.
By the 80th minute, the game had turned in to a track meet. From end to end the players streaked, some clearly succumbing to fatigue. Yet Gary Smith did not make any substitutions. Schellas Hyndman had brought on Jeff Cunningham for the giant Brek Shea in the 66th minute, and he was playing the role of difference maker. His energy was causing serious problems for Colorado’s weary back line. The Rapids would win a ball in their end, only to give it back to Dallas on a poor decision or lack of effort to support teammates. In the 83rd minute, Conor Casey finally got the yellow card that many fans had expected he would receive: sometimes tough play does come at a cost. But Colorado weathered the storm and in the 89th minute Gary Smith finally gave the back line some much needed relief. Wells Thompson was brought on for Jaime Smith and a minute later Julien “BEAST” Baudet was brought on for Anthony Wallace. It was an immediate injection of offense and competency, with Colorado able to control the last minutes before the final whistle. On a side note, Toledo (whose name has come up more often than a referee’s should) ended regulation while Colorado was setting up for a corner kick. While he is within his rights to do so, what does it say that he ended the game while Colorado was preparing for a potentially game winning play? The players felt exactly the same as the fans here; surrounding Toledo and making him hear a whole lot before the overtime periods.
Overtime began much the same way the first half did: Colorado held the ball and Dallas settled into their counter-attack. In the 8th minute of extra time, Gary Smith made his final substitution; bringing Macoumba Kandji on for Omar Cummings. Kandji was another great sub by Smith, as he immediately got on the ball. A major criticism of his insertion into the Columbus game was that he never got really in to the flow of the game, so it was great to see him get involved right off the start.
Macoumba Kandji’s acquisition by the Rapids had been a fairly lackluster affair up until the second half of overtime. What little he had gotten on the pitch generally left fans with a “meh” feeling. The potential was there but he hadn’t quite figured out the style to play with his new teammates. All of that changed in the 2nd minute of the second overtime period. Receiving a long switch from Conor Casey, Kandji ran right at a visibly tired Benitez. As he slid the ball between Benitez’s legs, crowds waited with bated breath while Macoumba ran at Hartman along the ride side of the six yard box. His touch between the legs of Benitez left room for a challenge from Ihemelu at the corner of the box. Kandji reached it first and with a massive stretch he poked the ball towards a streaking Pablo Mastroeni, but it hit Dallas’ George John on the way. As fans watched, the ball looped upward into the right corner of the goal, right behind Hartman who had come out to challenge the cross. George John collapsed to one knee at his mistake as teammates surrounded a fallen Kandji. His first goal for the club had put the Rapids ahead 2-1 in the biggest game in the team’s history and in one moment he had become a household name in Colorado.
But something wasn’t right. Kandji couldn’t stand after the challenge from Ihemelu. Replays showed his leg bowing under the tackle, nearly breaking. As he attempted to get off the field, he could not place any pressure on the leg. Ihemelu approached him and tried to shove him off the field, thinking he was wasting time. Kevin “Nick Lachey” Hartman got in on the action too, finger pointing like Todd Haley and overall acting like an upset parent at a U12 game instead of a professional soccer player. As Kandji writhed on the sideline, he attempted to stand and re-enter, only to buckle once again. His heart was in the game but his leg would not allow him to participate.
So without any subs remaining, the Rapids would be playing the final 10 minutes of the game with 10 men. Every time a Rapid won the ball, it was sent upfield either to a waiting Conor Casey or the corner to give themselves a brief respite. The desperation could be seen on each team’s face. Two plays in particular defines the last 10 minutes of the game. In the 120th minute the ball was played into the Colorado box from the right side of the attack, pinging around before falling to George John about 15 yards out. He drove a shot to the lower right corner of the net, and a sprawling Matt Pickens desperately pushed it wide. Teammates surrounded him and gave him hugs of congratulations before the corner. Again, in the 122nd minute, Dallas was able to break through Colorado’s line with Jeff Cunningham running onto a ball on the left side of the goal. With Pickens coming out, Cunningham pushed it past him towards the far post but it was cleared away by Drew Moor, who had sprinted back to help his keeper. Two minutes later and the Cup was in Colorado’s hands.
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