By AVI CREDITOR
TORONTO – The MLS Cup is staying put in the Rocky Mountain region.
Extra-time substitute Mac Kandji's close-range shot ricocheted off George John for an own goal in the 108th minute, lifting the Colorado Rapids to a 2-1 victory over FC Dallas and their first MLS Cup title on a bitter-cold night at BMO Field.
Kandji received the ball on the right side of the FCD box after a cross from Conor Casey, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Kandji slipped by Jair Benitez and found space to put a shot on frame from a tight angle. Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman seemed to have it lined up until John re-directed the ball into the goal for the game-winner and the third own goal in MLS Cup history.
"As soon as we came to Toronto, I had a good feeling," said Kandji, who was sent to Colorado by the New York Red Bulls in a midseason trade.
Kandji entered the game in the 98th minute for an injured Omar Cummings (thigh), but he suffered a left leg injury on the play and had to exit the game after the goal despite the Rapids having already exhausted all of their substitutes.
Playing with a man-advantage for the final 12 minutes and change, FC Dallas had numerous chances to tie the game and force penalty kicks. John nearly made amends for his miscue in the final moments, but he was denied by a sprawling Matt Pickens, who touched away the centerback's low shot.
"It was just a reaction," said Pickens, who made five saves. "Luckily I came out on top."
Seconds before the final whistle, Drew Moor cleared a Jeff Cunningham shot off the line.
"We've got a hard-working crew," said Casey, who was denied a penalty after appearing to be fouled by Benitez in the box in the 27th minute. "It feels like we really earned it. Our backs were against the wall for a lot of the game, but we just showed our resolve."
Colorado fell behind in the 35th minute when reigning league MVP David Ferreira opened the scoring. He latched onto a superb Marvin Chavez cross from the right and touched home a one-timer from the edge of the 6-yard box to put Dallas in the driver's seat.
Ferreira's effectiveness was limited after that, though, through a stout, team defensive effort. Central midfielders Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni headlined the effort to contain Dallas' sparkplug.
Their physical play, along with that of Casey, a true battering ram up top and while tracking back, stunted Dallas' possession- and passing-oriented attack.
"If you're going to stop FC Dallas you're going to have to knock us out of our rhythm or our attack," FCD coach Schellas Hyndman said. "The thing with physical play is it's disruptive. If that was their game plan, it was perfect."
The Rapids found the answer to Ferreira's goal in the 57th minute through Casey, who scored a gritty goal from his backside to breathe new life into his team.
Zach Loyd's failed clearance attempt to the left sideline afforded winger Jaime Smith the space to attack and cross. Both Hartman and Benitez dove to defend the cross by the near post, and the ball squirted behind Benitez where Casey, on the ground, managed to sweep home a shot into the vacated net.
"There's always mistakes in the game, you just hope they don't end up in the back of the net," Hyndman said.
The Rapids followed rival Real Salt Lake as the second consecutive Western Conference-based Eastern Conference champion to win MLS Cup.
For midseason acquisition Brian Mullan, the championship was his fifth. Conversely, for the longtime field general of the team, Mastroeni, and for the majority of the Rapids' roster, the championship was a first.
"This has been a beautiful ride, capping it off with a win," Mastroeni said. "This has been the most exciting day of my professional career."
Added Casey: "I've never won everything ever, and to do it with someone like Pablo, who has had such a storied career and never won and has given so much to the club, no one deserves it more."