Thermometer: Weighing Dallas vs. Colorado

How each team got to MLS Cup and who will have the advantage

On Sunday, FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids will play each other for the MLS Cup. (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Galavisión, TSN2)

Talk about your dark-horse candidates. Both teams are MLS originals, but “bluebloods” might not be the word you’re looking for. Of the two, Colorado is the only one with a trip to the Cup, when they fell to D.C. United in 1997. FCD, meanwhile, had not won a playoff series since 1999.

But here they are, which raises the question: How exactly did they get here? It’s a complicated subject, but not something the Thermometer can’t handle.

Striking Similarity

Before the playoffs began, FC Dallas and Colorado were on a goal-scoring tear. In their last five games, the Rapids had scored 11 goals, while FCD had notched nine. Both teams were shut out just once over that span.

The playoffs rolled around, and neither side has taken its foot off the gas. In fact, in their last five games overall, both teams have scored seven goals each and have yet to be shut out in the playoffs.

Both teams feature exciting players. FCD playmaker David Ferreira is an MVP candidate who had eight goals and 13 assists during the regular season and has added a goal and three assists in the postseason.

For the Rapids, Conor Casey and Omar Cummings scored a combined 27 goals during the 2010 regular season, and the tandem's rate of production hasn't diminished. In their last five games, they have registered five goals and four assists.

But interestingly enough, Colorado have only scored one goal in each of their three playoff games. Compare that to FCD’s six goals in that same span. It may be that Colorado find themselves on their heels Sunday night.

Defense Wins Championships

Point made that the teams can score, but their defenses have been impressive during the playoffs as well, with both allowing just two goals each in three playoff games.

FCD recorded a shutout against the Supporters’ Shield-winning LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Championship. Colorado have two shutouts, including one against Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski his San Jose Earthquakes.

This defensive prowess is somewhat out of character with their end-of-season form. Between them, the two teams posted just one shutout in the last five games of the regular season – FCD’s 3-0 Brimstone Cup victory over the Chicago Fire.

The formula for success in MLS Cup is easy: If one team reverts to its old ways, it’ll lose; if one stays true to their playoff defensive form, it’ll win.

Put ‘Em Up

For all the talk of the free-flowing, open play that FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman preaches, his team has some bruisers in the lineup. Brek Shea and Atiba Harris are both taller than six feet, and Daniel Hernandez is one of the best holding midfielders in the game.

And the Hoops are not afraid to mix it up. In their last eight games, FCD have committed 99 fouls while suffering 96. Compare that to Colorado’s 88 committed and 86 suffered.

But when the two meet on Sunday, FCD’s run-and-gun offense may prove to be the Rapids’ Achilles heel on defense. In their previous meeting, Colorado got whistled 17 times to Dallas’ nine. That’s not mixing it up; that’s having to foul your opponent to keep them off the board.

Despite What You Think, This Will Be The Game's Key Player

Casey? Cummings? Ferreira? Jeff Cunningham? No. Marvin Chavez. The speedy Honduran scored two goals and an assist in his last five regular-season games, and added another tally and a dish in the playoffs. Look for the “Little Mosquito” to have a big game on Sunday.

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