By Kevin Mooney
On Sunday, the Colorado Rapids – Arsenal’s partner club in Major League Soccer – will play for their first-ever league title.
The road to the MLS Cup FInal in Toronto was not an easy one. It took a two-legged aggregate win over 2008 champions Columbus Crew and a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, who boasted league leading-scorer Chris Wondolowski among their ranks.
It might have come as a surprise to many observers that a team who last made the playoffs in 2006 secured a spot in the final, but not to former Arsenal defender Steve Morrow.
“I don’t see it as that big of a surprise,” Morrow says. “Having known [Rapids Head Coach] Gary Smith so well and how he operates – how he coaches and how he organizes his team – I’m not too surprised."
"MLS is all about how you do when you get to the playoffs, and I think the Rapids have a team that is well-suited to that format.”
And he should know. Morrow currently supervises Arsenal’s international partnerships, and has good familiarity with the Rapids.
“I think Gary is building a strong team. When he first came into this job he wanted to re-shape the team a little bit and build a team for the future. Now, he’s got some good players, some experienced players and some young players coming through as well.”
Morrow specifically cites the experience of players like team captain Pablo Mastroeni and defender Drew Moor as one of the team’s key strengths. But he adds that it’s not just about the veterans’ command of the game. “They are a physical team to play against and their forwards also have the potential to score some goals.”
Leading the attack are strikers Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, who contributed 14 and 13 goals respectively this season. And with defenders like Moor, Marvell Wynn and Conference Final hero Kosuke Kimura, the Rapids have strength in the back as well.
Morrow’s unique perspective extends to Colorado’s opponents in the final: FC Dallas. He played two seasons in Dallas and later returned to the club as an assistant coach and eventually served as head coach from 2006-2008.
While there have been many changes to the Dallas roster since his time there, a few key players remain. “Dax McCarty and Brek Shea were two young players I drafted in my time as coach there,” Morrow said. “They have contributed very well for them this year, and it’s nice for me to see those young guys making such good progress.”
Morrow also has links to another key player for Dallas – playmaker David Ferreira. “He has done very well for them. He’s actually a player who I tried to bring in when I was in Dallas, but it didn’t quite work out. Although after I left they managed to sign him.”
Like Colorado, Dallas’ playoff performance may have surprised some MLS observers. The team got off to a slow start early in the season, and didn’t have the look of a title contender.
But Morrow contends they got stronger as the season went on. “They hit form at the right time and they look a strong team defensively with an exciting attacking potential too.”
With his close ties to each club, Morrow has a tough time picking a winner. But a few factors may just give the edge to Arsenal’s partner.
“I think Colorado will be a very difficult team to play against. And Toronto hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Dallas in recent years so that could be a good omen for the Rapids.”Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source