Commentary

Five reasons to watch the MLS Cup final

Updated: November 22, 2010, 12:47 AM ET
By Leander Schaerlaeckens | ESPN.com

HartmanVictor Decolongon/Getty ImagesKevin Hartman tops our list as the best draft pick in MLS history.

One of the continent's best soccer cities will host Major League Soccer's pinnacle on Sunday, when the Colorado Rapids face FC Dallas in the MLS Cup final in Toronto (8.30 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN3.com).

Here are five reasons to be excited about this game:

1. Attacking vs. Counterattacking

From an aesthetic standpoint, you couldn't ask for a much better matchup for a final.

On the one hand, the Rapids are the best attacking team in the league, led by an electric and very complementary pairing of strikers, Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, whose combined 27 goals was more than any other forward couple. Stopping that pair has proved next to impossible.

On the other hand, FC Dallas is as good as any team at absorbing pressure, before converting into its lightning-quick breaks. The league's best playmaker, David Ferreira, who has adapted well to the league's style and mastered Dallas' frantic ripostes, feeds the explosive Brek Shea to his left and Marvin Chavez to his right. They, in turn, create chances for physical striker Atiba Harris or the ultimate poacher, Jeff Cunningham.

The battle to see which of these tactics -- attack or counterattack -- proves superior should make for quite the spectacle.

2. A new champion

Eight teams have won an MLS championship in just 14 seasons. None of them is in this year's final. Instead, a ninth Cup winner will be crowned on Sunday. For both teams, success has been a long time in coming. Colorado snapped the longest-ever drought, 12 years, between MLS Cup appearances. FCD has its own tortured history, harking back to its days as the Dallas Burn.

3. Daniel Hernandez and Dax McCarty vs. Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz

Two of the most fearsome central midfields in the league, both accustomed to ruling their territory with an iron fist, will square off. Dallas will field the unflappable Hernandez as the holding man in its 4-1-4-1 formation, with box-to-box player McCarty behind playmaker Ferreira. Colorado's 4-4-2 system will feature the two-way play of Mastroeni and Larentowicz.

Fireworks should ensue in the middle of the park, and as with most games, the side that wins this battle will probably be the one holding the MLS Cup trophy after 90 minutes.

[+] EnlargeJeff Cunningham
Layne Murdoch/Getty ImagesDallas striker Jeff Cunningham knows all about post-goal celebrations, having scored 132 times in MLS.

4. Cunningham's scoring record

Dallas striker Jeff Cunningham, the T.O. of MLS, has had a lot of time to work on his post-goal celebrations. If you take his 132 tallies, and figure the average celebration lasts about seven seconds, you can deduce that Cunningham has spent almost 16 competitive minutes dancing on a Major League Soccer field. More to the point, his 132 goals trail only Jaime Moreno (133) for most all-time.

5. Kevin Hartman's revenge

Hartman was unceremoniously flung onto the trash heap by the Kansas City Wizards (or, I guess I should say, Sporting Kansas City) when the sides failed to resolve a bitter contract dispute. Dallas snapped up the Eminem-coiffed goalkeeper for the change it found between its couch cushions, and Hartman has handsomely rewarded the club for its faith in him. The 36-year-old didn't just dislodge Argentine veteran Dario Sala but has been instrumental in FC Dallas' playoff run, making crucial saves.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.