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Familiar Foes: Dallas vs. Colorado

TORONTO -- When FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids meet Sunday night to contest the 2010 MLS Cup it will mark the fifth time the two clubs have met in the postseason. But the intertwining histories of the two sides dates back long before there was an MLS Cup to contest -- in fact, it dates back to before MLS even existed. 

How is that possible? Well, before the Colorado Rapids played in MLS, the Colorado Foxes played in the American Professional Soccer League. 

The Foxes were coached by Dave Dir and featured the likes of goalkeeper Mark Dodd, defender Tom Soehn, and midfielders Ted Eck, Chad Ashton and Brian Haynes.  After the creation of MLS, Dir and these five players took their services to Dallas to become inaugural members of the Burn.  The collection of former Foxes on the Burn helped create a rivalry very early in the history of the league.

“It created an interesting situation, because the fans in Colorado had to get behind their new team, the Rapids,” recalled goalkeeper Mark Dodd.  “At the same time some of them still embraced us former Colorado players, and then some of them wanted to turn it into a big rivalry like we defected or something, which of course wasn’t the case.”

Even today’s rosters feature players who have histories with both clubs.  On the Dallas side there's Jeff Cunningham, who played for the Rapids in 2005; Bruno Guarda, who signed with Colorado in 2008 but was traded to FC Dallas before ever playing a game; and Ugo Ihemelu, who was traded to FCD in 2009 after playing in Colorado for three years.

In exchange for Ihemelu, FC Dallas sent local boy Drew Moor to the Rapids after four years of defending for his hometown club.  The current Rapids roster also features Anthony Wallace, who had been with FCD since 2007 before being traded this year, and Chris Sharpe, a pool 'keeper who trains with the team but was used by FCD during Kevin Hartman's injury absence.

And beyond the personnel? It gets even more complicated, not to mention controversial.

1997: Western Conference Championship

The first of the two-game 1997 Western Conference Championship was played on October 12 in Dallas’ Cotton Bowl. The Rapids earned a 1-0 victory off a goal by Sean Henderson in the 42nd minute, sending them back to Colorado with the series advantage.

Game two was tied at halftime off goals by Damian Alvarez for Dallas and David Patino for the Rapids.  The match looked to be headed to overtime until Chris Henderson gave Colorado the lead and the win in the 87th minute, sending the Rapids to their first MLS Cup to face defending champion DC United.

Former Burn ‘keeper Mark Dodd still recalls that series-ending goal.

“Chris Henderson, towards the very end of the game, just hit this absolute cracker of a flying side-volley up into the upper corner to just kill us,” said Dodd.  “Chris was one of those players that was so dangerous because he had unlimited stamina. The kid could just run up and down the wings all day long to give you all kinds of trouble.”

The series also marked the first in a long line of playoff futility that FC Dallas would suffer at the hands of the Rapids.

2002: Western Conference Semifinals

In 2002, the first round of the playoffs was still a best of three series. Game One was a high-scoring affair at the Cotton Bowl, with Dallas getting its first playoff victory over Colorado by a score of 4-2.  Steve Morrow, Jason Kreis, Chad Deering and Antonio Martinez were the scorers for the Burn that day, while Carlos Valderrama and John Spencer tallied for the Rapids. 

Game Two would only feature one goal. The 78th minute game-winner by Colorado’s Chris Carrieri tied the series at a game apiece. 

The determining game back in Dallas saw the Burn go up early off a Bobby Rhine tally in the sixth minute.  John Spencer equalized for Colorado in the 22nd minute, and the game would remain tied at one through the second half.

But once again FCD was thwarted by last-minute heroics, as Colorado’s Mark Chung scored in the 101st minute in overtime to eliminate the Burn from the playoffs once again.

2005: Western Conference Semifinals

In 2005 the Dallas Burn re-branded itself as FC Dallas and had a brand new soccer-specific stadium in Frisco’s Pizza Hut Park.  The first round playoff format was new that year as well, with the winner determined by a home-and-away aggregate goal series.  More familiar? Dallas' first-round opponent, the Colorado Rapids.

Game One in Colorado ended in a 0-0 tie.  Game Two was the first playoff game at Pizza Hut Park, and, perhaps ironically, Jeff Cunningham would be the first player to score a playoff goal in Pizza Hut Park to give Colorado the 1-0 lead in the first half. 

FCD would get an advantage in the second half, with Colorado’s Alain Nkong ejected in the 54th minute.  Carlos Ruiz tied the game in the 67th minute to send the game into overtime, and both teams would score again to send the match to PKs.  And once again, Colorado dramatically ended the hometown team's playoff run, as Colorado keeper Joe Cannon made a save on Dallas’ fifth shooter to eliminate them yet again.

Former Dallas player and current FCD color analyst Steve Jolley remembers Joe Cannon’s performance between the posts that game.

“One thing I remember, more than anything else, was Joe Cannon’s performance despite us being a man up for the last 30 minutes,” said Jolley.  “I just recall him having a glory game. They did a great job in terms of managing the situation.”

2006: Western Conference Semifinals

The next year FC Dallas and Colorado were back at again in the first round of playoffs, but this time around Dallas won the first game in Colorado by a score of 2-1.  The game was tied after the first half off goals from Carlos Ruiz for FCD and Terry Cooke for the Rapids. Abe Thompson notched the game-winner for Dallas in the 55th minute to take the series back to Frisco with a one-goal advantage.

Surely this was the year  the curse of Colorado would end?

Game Two was scoreless at halftime at Pizza Hut Park, but FCD took a 1-0 lead early in the second half off a strike by Carlos Ruiz.  The curse looked to finally be broken for FCD...that is, until Nico Hernandez netted two second half tallies to tie the aggregate and send the game into overtime. 

Like 2005, each club scored a goal in overtime (Clarence Goodson for FCD and Clint Mathis for Colorado) to send the game into PKs.  And just like in 2005, Rapids ‘keeper Joe Cannon would make the save on FCD’s final shooter to end the series in favor of Colorado. 

The difference was that this time the action didn't end with the whistle.

FCD starting 'keeper Dario Sala took exception to the ensuing celebration by final shooter Pablo Mastroeni, which he perceived to be disrespectful to Dallas fans, and a brawl ensued. There are varying accounts of what happened next, but punches were thrown and Sala was suspended six games and fined $3,500.

“He disrespected the fans in Dallas and that’s what happened then,” Sala told MLSsoccer.com after the team arrived in Toronto on Tuesday. “Pablo is like that. He provokes players as well as the fans." 

You can read both players' sides of the story here:

READ: Sala states his case

READ: Pablo Mastroeni tells Colorado's side

Former Dallas midfielder Ronnie O’Brien was on the squads in ’02, ’05 and ’06.  The postseason meetings with Colorado bring up bad memories for him.

“We should have won [those series] and we shot ourselves in the foot,” said O’Brien.  “When I think of the rivalry I think of missed opportunity. Every time I made the playoffs in Dallas it was Colorado who knocked us out.”

On Sunday night a new chapter will be written in the Dallas-Colorado postseason rivalry, and FCD clearly hopes that history will not repeat itself.

“We do have a history against Colorado, and there has always been animosity between us,” Sala said. “The final is not going to be the exception.”

The MLS Cup will take place at BMO Field in Toronto on Sunday, November 21 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. Stay tuned to FCDallas.com for all your playoff coverage!