TORONTO – Given the choice between two different coaches at 42 and 61 years old, conventional thinking would lead many to believe that the younger manager would play the more effervescent style of soccer.
But in this MLS Cup, the opposite proves true.
Three players have played for both FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman and his younger Colorado Rapids counterpart Gary Smith heading into Sunday’s match at BMO Field in Toronto (7:30 pm CT, ESPN), and they agreed that the two manager brings conflicting and interesting styles into the biggest match of their lives.
“You can tell with the style of the players on his team, [Hyndman] has more of a Latin influence,” Rapids left back Anthony Wallace said. “He’s looking to play short passes, balls to feet. We have a European coach who is more direct.”
Smith, who was a scout, assistant and reserve team manager in England, seeks first for the Rapids to be organized defensively and wants the ball played directly to the strikers when his team wins the ball. He is described as organized, detail-oriented and a master tactician by the players.
“Very much a student of the game,” Colorado central defender Drew Moor said. “We go over a lot of video. We go over a lot of tactics and board work and it pays off. When you can visually see it like that, it makes a lot of sense to players.”
FC Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu, who played under Smith in Colorado, talks about sharp, regimented practices with a large notepad greeting every player for practice with specific information about every drill, every warm-up and which color bib each player is wearing.
“He’s demanding and he’s intense. He’s really intense,” Ihemelu said. “In the game I’m sure he would want to be on the field fighting and playing. That’s one of his good qualities as a coach. He’s real competitive and some players can feed off that.”
“Gary is a little more involved [in practices],” Wallace said. “Schellas is more off to the side and he’ll step in every now and then to let you know how he wants things done.”
Hyndman spent 24 years as a collegiate head coach at SMU and has also conducted coaching clinics in Brazil and served as a scout for Brazilian club Sao Paulo. The 61-year-old has the attack-minded label between the two coaches in the final.
His current and former players point to the motto that Hyndman passes on to his team to encourage attractive soccer: “Pass forward, run forward.”
“Schellas gives more freedom to players on the field,” Ihemelu said. “And you can see our team’s creative guys are technical with their play. Schellas allows guys the freedom to create and go forward and we send numbers forward. At the same time he wants us to stay organized and he expects us to be intelligent in the back to try and keep that organization.”
Moor, who played over a season with Hyndman in Dallas, highlighted the fact that Hyndman’s fluid attack is difficult to track because players are sprung forward from different directions.
“You look at his method and it’s very explosive, very offensive,” Moor said. “Can we score more than you?”
The playoffs have showcased both team styles. Aside from the first half at home against Columbus, the Rapids have played conservatively and managed results away to the Crew and at home against San Jose in the Eastern Conference Championship.
FC Dallas, meanwhile, have shown they can be lethal when they attack in numbers, scoring three goals against each of the top two teams in the league: Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy.
Both Hyndman and Smith took over as head coaches in 2008 and have nearly identical regular season records: 27-22-22 for Smith and 27-22-28 for Hyndman.
The goal scoring record tips in Hyndman’ favor with 1.56 goals scored per game compared to Smith’s rate of 1.45 with Colorado. However, the defensive solidity of the Rapids is most evident by the fact that they have only lost three of the 40 matches in which they have taken the lead.
FC Dallas have gone ahead 47 times under Hyndman and lost 10 of those matches.
In their head-to-head match-ups, Smith holds the slight edge with a 2-1-3 record and a 7-6 advantage in goals. Also relevant is the fact that Hyndman is undefeated in matches at BMO Field (1-0-2) while Smith’s Rapids have lost both games played in Toronto.
“You can’t say either one has done anything wrong this year,” Moor said. “We’re both in this game together.”