Representatives from both MLS Cup 2010 finalists spoke with media on Monday. In the second of two full transcripts, Colorado Rapids head coach Gary Smith and forward Omar Cummings shared their thoughts ahead of Sunday's match (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/Galavision).
Colorado Rapids Head Coach: Gary Smith
Colorado Rapids Forward Omar Cummings
GARY SMITH: As you can imagine, the group is very pleased and excited about the result of the weekend against San Jose, played very well under some difficult circumstances in a semifinal and obviously a final for the Eastern Conference. Team looked good, looked confident, very professional in their approach to the game, and of course in how the result for us ended up.
We're fully healthy. We're looking forward to the weekend, of course, and we know that in Dallas we have a very talented and formidable opponent. But I would think that any final that anyone gets to, they will be expecting it, so that's nothing new.
The week will be no different for us, really. We travel a day prior to a usual East Coast trip, but all in all, it gives us I think a little bit more time to acclimatize and settle into what we all hope is going to be a very good weekend and obviously a very competitive one.
THE MODERATOR: Omar, most experts would say you're one of the most exciting players in the league. We appreciate you joining us on the call today. Give us some of your thoughts going into your first MLS Cup and also on your opponent, FC Dallas.
OMAR CUMMINGS: Well, definitely excited. I'm very excited. I've been waiting four years to be here, and I'm ready to go down to FC Dallas as you said. We've played two times this year, tied both games and we've been very competitive with each other, and we're just looking forward to it.
Q. I was wondering if you both watched the game last night, and were you surprised by how that unfolded?
GARY SMITH: Yes, I watched it, and of course, yeah, it was a fantastic result for Dallas and not, I would think, how most pundits would have expected that game to unfold.
However, I thought Dallas showed a hell of a lot of the qualities that they do possess, and on an evening, again, that must have been quite pressurized for them, going to LA and getting the sort of result that they did showed the sort of character and qualities that they possess.
It's nothing new. The team has played some very, very good football all year, and in both the games that we played against them. Especially here on our own pitch where we've been pretty dominant, they played extremely well and caused us some problems.
The score line I think was probably the most difficult to try and read because of how the games have been against LA this season. But a fantastic result for them.
OMAR CUMMINGS: Great game, as Gary said. Great result for Dallas. I think they did well. But once they got that first goal, I think the game kind of opened up, and once they got the second, LA had to try and get some goals, and they got the third.
Just great for them and the way they played. But I think LA also had some chances, and if they did convert those chances, then it could have been a different game. So good for Dallas.
Q. Gary, you mentioned off the top that you're going to try and keep it as much a normal week as possible. How difficult do you think that will be with guys coming to play the championship game?
GARY SMITH: Well, we can only do our best to make sure that the weekly training schedule is similar to any other week. You know, the integral workings of this group and our focus is the same as any other week. What we won't be able to control as much when we go to Toronto are obviously some interviews and some of the press that goes with being in a final.
But the one thing I will say is that this group is a really straightforward and simple group. There are no massive personalities or stars within the group. The guys are very level headed. They'll keep their feet on the ground. They know the challenge that they have in front of them, and they'll be extremely focused on that. That's pretty much the route we'll go.
Q. How do you go about stopping someone like a David Ferreira?
GARY SMITH: Well, he's had a fabulous season, and he's been able to express himself probably more so than any other time he's been in this league. His form has been excellent. There's no doubt about that. I think the shape of their team helps them. It certainly aids and abets what he's capable of and gives him some freedom to work within that midfield, and he makes nice choices to join in. Maybe we'll go man for man on him, eh? We'll just stick someone on him to look after him the whole game and take him completely out of the equation and just play nine v. nine on the outfield. That might be a good route.
Q. Would Pablo be one of those options?
GARY SMITH: If that's the route that we go, then Pablo will definitely not be that man. He's far too capable at the other end of the field for me to be wasting him on one player.
Q. Coach, like you said before, you guys are pretty familiar with Dallas, played them to two draws this year. From what you remember in those matches, what kind of things need to change to kind of switch the result in your favor?
GARY SMITH: Well, the game here I thought Dallas played very well. I'm not sure it suited us massively. It was midday, middle of the summer, something that they were probably more adept to than our group coming from such a warm and humid climate in Dallas.
The game at their place was the latter stages of the season. We were certainly in a decent run of form. The climate had cooled off somewhat, and I felt we played as well at their place as they did here. On the day I thought we had opportunities to win the game and maybe even the better of opportunities. If I remember rightly, the officiating didn't lend itself to some of the decisions that we might have thought should have been called our way.
All in all, I think we have all the tools needed to beat Dallas. We have individuals that are very capable, very creative, and we also have a group at this point that are extremely spirited and ultra competitive. We're playing in a climate that I think will suit us. We're playing on a pitch that I think will suit us. And all in all, they'll have their hands full on the night, there's no doubt about that.
Q. Omar, can you talk a little bit about MLS Cup being such a big match, but a lot of the guys with Colorado have played in matches, whether it's national teams or European leagues. How do you think those experiences are going to help, or how is it going to be a different atmosphere this weekend?
OMAR CUMMINGS: I think it'll be great. Guys like Pablo, Jeff and Brian that have been in finals and been in this situation, I think their experience would lend itself tremendously to us young players, players that have never been in this situation before. And we just are looking for them to lead us all the way.
I think we do have other players in this team that have something to bring to this game, and we're going to show it on the night. So I'm looking forward to it.
Q. Gary, how much will the weather advantage help your team?
GARY SMITH: Well, what I'm led to believe, it's going to be very cold, possibility of rain, you know, inclement conditions that are very similar to my home country. So it'll be fine for me sitting on the bench. It'll be home from home.
All in all, I just think the climate here in general will be similar this time of year to where we're coming from. Of course it's not to say that they can't adapt to that, but generally we have to deal with, as we are at the moment, something falling out of the sky, it being cooler, possibly some wind, and conditions that are not always just straightforward.
The guys there will be ready for that, you know. I think the type of team that they are and some of the resilience within the group, the individuals that we have will relish playing in those sort of conditions and under the sort of pressure that we're going to be involved in.
Q. You've been able to score against Dallas this year several times. What's been the key to your ability to score against them?
GARY SMITH: Well, it's actually three. That's not as many as several. Several we'd be a lot more confident, trust me. I think all in all, we've got a group of players that are very well versed in the system that they play. They're very comfortable with each other and some of the relationships that we have within that group. We have two extremely good forwards who work well together and are very creative. We have some strength coming off the bench in important moments who can keep that momentum going and keep the group extremely competitive.
You know, there's no set format or reason as to the whys and wherefores of scoring against Dallas except that we're very comfortable in how we play and we'll be very capable of putting this team under pressure. There's no doubt.
Q. Can I ask one question of Cummings? What's the toughest thing about playing the Dallas defense, Hartman or the back line, or what?
OMAR CUMMINGS: I think that it's a lot how we play, whether we're going to put the ball on the ground and try to move it or whether we're going to be putting balls in the air where a player like John could just pick them off in the air and head them out. I think a key would be for us as players or as a team, the way we play, to move the ball quickly, to make runs off the ball and give them some trouble.
Q. Just thinking about going into this game, and we've often seen in one off game substitutes, and you sort of alluded to it about guys coming off the bench, but both teams face a situation that some of the bench players haven't been used in the last couple of weeks in the last two series. Do you put any special work into dealing with these guys to make sure that they're in the right frame of mind come Sunday, or is that just something that you'd assume they'd be ready to go when asked?
GARY SMITH: Well, I think there's two angles there. The mental angle is one of them, but we're going into a Cup final, and anybody that's involved in that 18 I'm sure will be excited and looking forward to the challenge when called upon.
I think the second one is one that we have to deal with day to day, which is the physical angle, to keep the players sharp and to keep them ready and physically capable when called upon. And obviously we have maybe a different way of dealing with our players maybe to Dallas or anyone else. What I know is that the players that make the 11 and the guys that make the bench will be as ready physically and mentally as they possibly can be, and when called upon, there will certainly be no doubts about the physical and mental position that they're in.
Q. Just a quick follow up. Gary, are you a coach that believes in practicing penalty kicks before when you know there's a chance of going that route? And I guess the second question, Omar, is how would you feel about taking penalty kicks?
GARY SMITH: Yeah, I mean, there's no way of replicating what the guys might have to face on match day if it goes to penalties. The only thing that any of us can ever do is practice time and time again in the same spot picking a side, feeling comfortable, getting used to that process of finishing from the penalty spot.
But at the end of a game when the guys will be exhausted having got to that point, you know, mentally I'm sure they'll be in a stressful position. There will be some pressure on them. However it ends up at that point, there's no way of dealing with that prior to the event. So it's just a matter of practicing the kicks and being comfortable with that penalty spot finish, you know.
OMAR CUMMINGS: I'm more than confident in kicking penalties. I have no problems, and if I'm called upon, then I'll definitely be more than happy to put one in the back of the net.
Q. Gary, you mentioned that most people probably would not have expected the outcome of last night's game. Is having a team like Dallas, one that probably a lot of people would not have picked when the playoffs began in the MLS Cup Finals, is that good for soccer in that you've got a team that isn't say the high profile of the Galaxy or Real Salt Lake?
GARY SMITH: For us or for the game?
Q. For the game as a whole.
GARY SMITH: Why not? I don't see that as an issue. I mean, Dallas is a talented side, and they've played some of the best football that this season has seen from that team. You know, I've seen plenty of articles that have been more critical towards us than Dallas about getting to the finals.
You know, I'm sure there are people at the league office that would like to have seen one of the bigger franchises there and maybe a David Beckham that pulls some international press and coverage. But as far as the league goes, I would think that they're looking and they're thinking, listen, we're doing our job well; we're creating parity as much as possible to keep competition, and Dallas deserves to be there.
Q. You mentioned a little bit earlier that the way that Dallas plays helps Ferreira maximize his abilities. Can you talk a little bit about your midfield now that you've changed it a little bit, adding Mullan and Kandji, kind of where that position on the field sits as you guys go into the final this week?
GARY SMITH: Well, we have a slightly different shape to them, a more straightforward four-four-two regularly. I think our midfield is something maybe you'd look upon as pretty straightforward. We have good balance out wide and two central midfield players that are very physically capable and technically efficient. They're good two way players. They defend ever so well when need be. But I think they've shown probably more so this year than at any other point that they're also capable at the other end of the field.
So you know, we have a midfield that is comfortable with each other. They're extremely spirited. They appreciate what each and every other player brings to that midfield and how difficult they are to play against. And at the moment they're confident and looking forward to what Sunday will bring for them.
Q. Omar, I'd like to ask you about the Dallas back line. We talked a little bit about the midfield, but you've played against Drew Moor and Ugo and some of the other guys back there. What are their strengths besides being a good defensive team that you guys have to be able to handle when you play on Sunday?
OMAR CUMMINGS: Well, I think they have some good guys back there. They have speed. They have strength, and they're very aggressive when they do play. But again, I think we have to focus on us, us as a team, us as an attacking lineup, and that's all I'm worried about. I'm not worried about their defense.
Q. Gary, can you talk about Brian Mullan and the choice of moving him to the other side, having him track Wondolowski rather than Convey and maybe if Omar can follow up a little bit about how playing with Brian on his side changes things for you guys.
GARY SMITH: Well, in Saturday's game we made one change from the week before that was in force due to Jamie Smith's slight problem. The reasoning for putting Brian on the left was that he is more experienced, and I think he's more capable on that left hand side, and it offered Wells Thompson the opportunity to play in a more natural position.
You know, Wondolowski has had a terrific season. It really wasn't to try and neutralize that individual player. Brian's natural instincts are very good when we don't have the ball, and far be it from me to take away the positive edge to his game and be creative. He just picks up good positions when we don't have the ball full stop, and I know immediately if he was on that side it would help Anthony Wallace and maybe offer him a little bit more guidance with his experience, and on the night it worked quite nicely.
Q. Omar, does having Brian on your side change things a little bit, the way you play?
OMAR CUMMINGS: Not really, no. It's been a short relationship so far, but it's one that we're constantly building, me and Brian. I think the more we play with each other, the more we get to understand each other and the more stuff we can do, whether when I go outside he cuts inside or when I go outside use me.
But it's a relationship that's building, and hopefully we can continue to do that in the final.
Q. Gary, what do you think the turning point of the season was for your team? Nobody was really expecting you or Dallas to be where they're at right now. But when do you think you saw things turn around for your team and you really felt like, ‘Hey, we have a good shot of getting to the final’?
GARY SMITH: We had a very decent start, and as was publicized went through a little bit of a flat spell, and that spell in the middle of the season was,you know, it was out of character with the group. There wasn't any concern about the way the team was playing except that maybe we just weren't converting as many of the opportunities as we were creating.
We actually played San Jose here and won 1 0, and I think from that point on, there was a bit of a run of home games, and I just felt at that point that we might have just turned the corner. It was our first win, I think, in nine games, and even though we hadn't lost many, that victory I thought just gave everybody the lift that they needed and some confidence to go on and really continue the improvement and development of this group.
When all is said and done, I'm two years into my tenure here, and the team has slowly but surely improved, and we've made some nice additions, and the guys that are still here, the core of the group when I started, have really developed nicely and have formed some terrific relationships with the guys that have been brought in.
There's still plenty of potential in this group. We certainly haven't finished improving, and we're, of course, all excited and delighted to be in the final, and I think that's testimony to the way the guys have performed this year and some of the strides that they've made.
Q. One other thing: You mentioned briefly the two Dallas players that you brought onto your team. How big of a factor has that been? How do you think it's going to really help you for this final, and how have they fit into your team?
GARY SMITH: Well, Anthony knows all their set paces straight away, so we'll be fully aware of what they're going to be doing from their dead balls, so I'm pleased about that.
No, in all honesty, Drew was a fantastic addition. He's been so versatile for us along that back four and predominantly as a center back.
I have to say that Ugo moving to Dallas was not one necessarily that we would have wanted to lose, but at that time it was good for both teams. They took in the other direction not just a very, very good player but a fabulous individual, as well.
Anthony's inclusion just before the window really closed was a lovely addition for us, and again, you know, Dallas have got some wonderful four backs there, and there's fault for choice really for left backs and were at that time. I didn't listen to Schellas, but I'm sure he was as complimentary about Anthony as I am because I've spoken to him myself. We're pleased to have both of those guys here. They've been great for us, and they've been extremely good additions.
Q. I'm actually struck when you look at the way the team has evolved through the season how there was not a dramatic change at the end of the season, that the team has really been consistent from the beginning, that the angle on the back line and midfield, the team has been solid from the get go, and maybe the only thing that was missing there for a while is putting away some of the chances that you were creating. But you talk a lot about being in form, and I think everybody on this call knows what you mean when you say a team is in good form, but maybe you could translate that for readers that don't know what you mean. What does a team have when you're playing well when you're in form, when you're not in form? You're playing hard but you're out of form. What do you have when you're in form that you're missing when it's not quite there?
GARY SMITH: Well, I mean, firstly, I agree with you with the point about being consistent. We can look back at the season over 30 games, and there's a lot of improvements again statistically for this group which aids development, and we have moved forward.
I think form is confidence. It's confidence not only in your own game, but it's confidence in your teammates, as well, and building those relationships and that rapport within the group, just having that understanding. Omar is sitting in front of me here, but the understanding with Conor has moved forward from even last year where they were very, very productive, and they just look like they're on the same wavelength.
Form is about being in front of goal and being confident to finish and making the right choice, and form is also having the confidence to play through individuals that before you might have bypassed because maybe their first touch has let you down on previous occasions.
But I think all in all, we're in a very nice place. Of course we're delighted to be here. I think we deserve to be here. We've been competitive when we needed to be. We've shown good resilience. The second leg against Columbus was a very, very tough game, and there were times there where we were put under extreme pressure.
I think in previous seasons the team would have buckled and we wouldn't be sitting here holding this conversation. But we've got a nice contrast and balance within the group now that when we are under pressure we know how to deal with it. We've got characters that can deal with it. And when we get into our stride, we're difficult to deal with. We've got pace and we've got good creativity within the group now.
We have a very good chance in a 90 minute, 120 minute game of beating a game that we've been on level par with, a lot of parity in the group, and we'll be pleased to be challenging for the MLS Cup in a one off game.