The MLS Cup this weekend matches features the Columbus Crew, the best team during the MLS regular season, against the New York Red Bulls, the Cinderella team in the playoffs.
This game promises to be open and entertaining with two of the best players in the league going head-to-head. New York’s Juan Pablo Angel and Guillermo Barros Schelotto of Columbus, both of them candidates for the league MVP award. Together, these South American stars combined for 21 goals, and thrilled MLS fans with their explosive skills this past season.
Schelotto is our choice for MLS MVP this season as he has been the catalyst behind the Crew attack all season. New York counters with Angel, the deadly striker who has regained his scoring touch after an injury-plagued first half of the season. With 14 goals since the All-Star break Angel carried the Red Bulls into the playoffs and now to the final. One of the keys to the game is how Angel does against MLS defender of the year Chad Marshall. The Red Bulls need Angel to win this battle if they are to have any chance of winning.
The Red Bulls however are not a one man team. They have Danny Cepero, who is the hottest goalkeeper on the planet at the moment. Unless he has a terrible game Sunday, he has to be a shoo-in to win the playoff MVP trophy. All this from a keeper who had not played a minute of MLS soccer six weeks ago.
The Red Bulls coach is Juan Carlos Osorio who has gone through challenges ranging from losing Jozy Altidore (Villareal) to having Claudio Reyna retire (a blessing, with all due respect) and on to the suspensions of keeper Jon Conway and defender Jeff Parke. Osorio is obsessive about tactics and preparation and you know that he will have his players ready for Sunday.
In short the Red Bulls are organized, workmanlike, resilient and lucky, all at once. Opponents have hit the post six times over the past two games .
If I am a Crew player or fan I am probably a little ticked off at all the attention that the Red Bulls are getting. After all, it was the Crew who won the Supporters Cup and who defeated the second best team in MLS last week (Chicago Fire) to get to this game. The Crew has the league MVP and yet all mlsnet.com is talking about is the Red Bulls.
The Crew’s has the advantage across the park. Marshall versus Angel will be and interesting battle, but this game will be decided in midfield. The primarily battle will be between Schelotto and the Red Bulls rookie Luke Sassano. Sassano has been a revelation in the playoffs as he has outplayed Houston Dynamo’s star Dwayne De Rosario and Real Salt Lake playmaker Javier Morales. However Schelotto is a step up in class from who Sassano has played against and I cannot see the Red Bulls winning the battle in midfield.
If Columbus controls the midfield, that means that their wide players Robbie Rodgers and Eddie Gaven will get the opportunity to run at the Red Bulls defense. Rogers got the better of the Red Bulls the last time they faced each other two months ago and Chris Leitch will have his hands full trying to contain him.
Columbus I think has too many playmakers for New York and I expect them to capture the MLS Cup for the first time in their history. The game on Sunday has a 3:30 (ET) kickoff and will be shown on televised live nationally on on ABC, with JP Dellacamera and John Harkes calling all the action, and Allen Hopkins and Pedro Gomez reporting from the sidelines.