By Jeff Kassouf
As predicted, MLS Cup 2008 is a clash of the Cinderella story versus the team that everyone expected to be there. The New York Red Bulls have basically won two important games all year to get them to this final, and the Columbus Crew spent the season atop the table.
The Crew’s 57 points gained the team the supporters shield, and its 17 wins were four more than the next best team. Columbus is lead by the highly-touted league MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and anchored by a stellar defense that includes Defender of the Year Chad Marshall.
The New York Red Bulls, on the other hand, enter the final with a sub-.500 regular season record, and look to obtain a championship in a similar fashion the LA Galaxy did in 2005 by squeaking into the playoffs and getting hot at the right time.
The Galaxy went 13-13-6 in 2005, and made the playoffs by default of Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA still looking to grow out of their infancy. The Red Bulls’ title run would arguably be even more remarkable, having beaten two-time defending champion Houston in order to make their way to the final.
Columbus is 13-0-0 when scoring first and New York is 2-10-3 when allowing the first goal. MLS Cup finals have a stigma of being slow, defensive struggles, so the first goal could be the deciding one on Sunday.
One must also hope that the game – which will surely be physical – is not taken over by the referee. Baldomero Toledo will be the man in charge on Sunday. Toledo sent of 10 players and called 11 penalty kicks in 21 games this season, both the most among any referee in the league.
Hopefully no controversy will arise in order to ensure a legitimate champion. The Red Bulls certainly had luck on their side in fending off a ferocious Real Salt Lake side in the Western Conference final, but the Columbus Crew will be looking to show the Red Bulls that their run has been a fluke, and prove that consistency can reign in Major League Soccer.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: email@example.com