TORONTO – Jeff Cunningham waited 13 years to reach his first MLS Cup final. He endured difficult, at times acrimonious stints with five different MLS clubs. He won two Golden Boot awards, but was also discarded by four organizations. And on Sunday night in Toronto, a place where he played for a little over a season, he faced the bitter disappointment of falling short in what is surely the twilight of his career.
Cunningham hasn’t spoken to the media since he was benched early in FC Dallas’ season. On Sunday, sitting alone and dejected in the locker room after his side’s 2-1 loss to Colorado in the MLS Cup final, he broke his silence.
“I really wanted this. My whole career, through preseason, two-a-days – the past 13 years I’ve worked to get to this point,” Cunningham said. “And for it to end like this, it’s really disappointing.
“I don’t know where I go from here. This is probably the lowest of the low.”
Where he goes from here might be, quite literally, out of Dallas. Cunningham was not among the 11 players protected by FCD in advance of this month’s MLS expansion draft, meaning he could be selected by Vancouver or Portland heading into 2011.To start over at 34 years of age seems a daunting proposition, especially with an expansion side.
But Cunningham has more at stake than most. He’s just two goals shy of breaking Jamie Moreno’s all-time MLS scoring record, and he’s made no secret of his desire to break it.
“I want to continue to play,” he said. “Right now it’s just really low for me. I want the opportunity to compete for the Cup, whether I’m given the chance in Dallas or somewhere else.”
Cunningham’s Dallas side was the favorite heading into the final, but Colorado’s physical play and relentless pressure turned the tide in their favor. An own goal in overtime sealed the victory, and Cunningham and his teammates were forced to watch someone else hoist the trophy they had hoped would be theirs.
“Their gameplan is to play physical, scrappy, and that’s what kind of game it was tonight,” said Cunningham, who was roundly booed by TFC fans still holding a grudge from his short, unpopular stint there. “I don’t think they played better than us. I don’t think they were the better team. But at the end of the day they scored more goals than us.”
Cunningham will return to Dallas today, without the trophy and without any kind of assurance that he will return to FCD next season. But as of now, as of that low moment alone in the locker room – the lowest of his career, according to Cunningham – he is not yet ready to retire.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but this can’t be it. I hope this is not it for me.”