Colorado's one big Cannon
in a shortened season due to the events of 9/11 -- finished their season with 14 points. Because they probably would have managed more points that season if it had not been cut short, they are considered to be the second-worst team in MLS history despite their 4-21-2 record. They scored 32 goals in 27 games.
In 2002, D.C. United did not make the playoffs due to a horrific season, where they finished 9-14-5 for 32 points and their offense accounted for only 31 goals.
In 2004, the Colorado Rapids finished with a record of 10-9-11 for 41 points. To the naked eye, it looks like a pretty good year. To the naked eye, it would seem I have no reason to put this year's Rapids team in the same breath with the three teams I just mentioned.
However, in 30 games this year, the Rapids scored 29 times. Twenty-nine goals. That's it. For those of you who aren't paying attention, that is the lowest goal total in the history of MLS. For those of you who can't add, this is the first time a team has scored fewer goals than games played. On paper, this is the worst offensive team this league has ever seen. But look on the bright side: they did manage to score two more goals than Roy Lassiter did in 1996. Lassiter alone scored 27 goals that year.
I know defense wins championships, but this is a little much.
You see, normally, I'm not a stats guy. I like to find the value in players and look beyond the stats. In soccer, stats can be deceiving, and sometimes they can be a little trivial. But, as a good friend once told me, numbers never lie. People do. So if anybody is telling you that the Colorado Rapids are a good team, you guessed it. They're lying.
I'll tell who are pretty good statisticians: goalkeepers. They absolutely love stats. They compare them. They analyze them. Because it's all they really have to prove their worth at times. More so than any for other position statistics are a huge negotiating tool for a goalkeeper, as they should be.
The Colorado Rapids were scored on 32 times this year. Joe Cannon made 150 saves, and he probably remembers every one of them. Cannon's performance is not only statistically noteworthy. It is the reason why the Rapids made the playoffs. And last Saturday night against the Los Angeles Galaxy, he showed us why again, making two outstanding saves that probably saved the game. The tip over the bar from Danny Califf's header in the first half and the save on a glancing redirection from Jovan Kirovski to the near post were two saves not every goalkeeper in this league would have made. But why does this surprise anybody? He's been doing it all year long.
I know what some of you are thinking. I was the one last year who thought it was a mistake for Rapids coach Tim Hankinson to replace then-Rapids starter Scott Garlick when the playoffs rolled around. And yes, throughout the year, I have thrown my share of darts at Hankinson and the way he goes about his business ... but, the Rapids don't have bad players. The Rapids in general are far more capable of playing a more attractive style of soccer than they do, and yes, replacing Garlick was a mistake.
But it must be nice knowing that they have a guy standing between the pipes who has been absolutely fearless and, time and time again, has made the big play that has kept his club in so many games this year. Because of Joe Cannon, the Colorado Rapids this year have gotten a lot of wins that should have been ties and a lot of ties that could have been losses. If it weren't for him, your opinion of this team would be a lot different. So all this included -- the stats, the saves, the leadership, all of that, regardless of how they fare in the playoffs -- the trophy belongs to Cannon. The MVP trophy, that is.
The ESPN2 crew is off to Columbus this week, a mere eight days after the Crew's 18-game league unbeaten streak was ruined by the New England Revolution, the last team to qualify for the playoffs and an unlikely group to spoil Greg Andrulis's run. But this is the playoffs. The streak ended with the regular season, and fittingly so for a team who might have forgotten how to win, but sure knows how to tie. That attitude might work in the regular season, but in the playoffs, you've got to come to win or there's no use coming at all.
Early last week, I commented that I thought Columbus had peaked too early. I take that back. I think Columbus is a team, now more than ever, that can be the most explosive team in the league. Their potential, with or without the streak, outweighs their achievement. But they have made one mistake. They have allowed the Revolution to believe that they can advance, which is not a real good idea when dealing with New England sports clubs (e.g., the Boston Red Sox). Even though Brian Kamler, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan and Steve Ralston watched their beloved Cardinals fall apart in the World Series, I don't expect them to display a similar lack of intensity on Sunday afternoon.
This game is what the playoffs are all about: the first team to clinch possibly getting knocked off by the last team to get in. If Columbus doesn't bring the right attitude to this game, they can forget about MLS Cup on Nov. 14 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Unless, of course, they're planning on going as spectators, in which case I'm sure Mr. Hunt can provide them with tickets.
All in all, I like this matchup, mainly because both of these teams have never won MLS Cup, but they have some players in their teams who have. Columbus has Tony Sanneh (D.C. United in 1997 and 1998), Manny Lagos (San Jose Earthquakes in 2001 and 2003) and Simon Elliott (Los Angeles Galaxy in 2002). And in New England, Matt Reis was a part of the L.A. team that beat the Revs in Gillette Stadium in 2002. And speaking of that 2002 Revolution team, a majority of the players on the team are still there so, much like their Red Sox colleagues, they know exactly what it's like to have their hearts ripped out.
And since I believe that in great sports cities, championships go in twos and threes (i.e., New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox), that has to be a part of the Revolution's motivation -- one more reason to celebrate in Boston. The playoffs are made for heroes and miracles, and if New England is to advance, they're going to need one in the form of Matt Reis.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He was inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame on Oct. 11. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.