No one is overlooking FC Dallas anymore.
Given little chance to beat either Real Salt Lake or the Los Angeles Galaxy, the league's best teams in the regular season by far, Dallas knocked off both of them to earn the Western Conference title and a spot in its first MLS Cup. FC Dallas will play the Colorado Rapids on Sunday in Toronto.
"There's a little bit of a motivating factor for some of the guys that want to disprove the naysayers," Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman said Monday. "But the reality is, we think we deserve this."
Few people would have expected a Dallas-Colorado matchup when the playoffs began. The Galaxy (59 points) and defending MLS champion Real Salt Lake (56) had battled all season for best record in the league, with the East-leading New York Red Bulls five points behind.
Los Angeles has Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Edson Buddle, who was the league's leading scorer for most of the season despite missing more than a month for the World Cup. The Red Bulls were re-energized by the midseason addition of international stars Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez.
Dallas, meanwhile, dropped its last two regular-season games _ to Salt Lake and the Galaxy, naturally _ while Colorado finished seventh-best among the eight playoff teams.
But Dallas didn't tie the MLS record with a 19-game unbeaten streak this year by being lucky. It held off Salt Lake in the first round, then played what Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman called a "perfect game" Sunday night in a 3-0 upset of Los Angeles.
"For a coach, (being overlooked) was a great motivational tool," Hyndman said. "We played well all year and all I ever said to the guys was, 'You are a good team. You are a good team, and I'd rather be coaching you than any other team in the league. Believe in it and go out and perform.'"
Hartman turned back the Galaxy time and again in the first half, including a diving stop on a blistering shot by Donovan from 31 yards.
Hartman, who considered retirement earlier this year, finished with six saves. David Ferreira, one of three nominees for league MVP, scored in the 21st minute, disrupting Los Angeles' game plan and forcing it to play for the equalizer.
George John and Marvin Chavez scored in the second half to seal the victory.
"It was a fantastic result for Dallas and not, I would think, how most pundits would have expected that game to unfold," Colorado coach Gary Smith said. "On an evening that must have been quite pressurized for them, going to Los Angeles and getting the result they did showed the quality of character they possess.
"But it's nothing new. They played some very good football all year."
As did the Rapids, who had just three losses in their last 14 games.
The Rapids and FC Dallas tied in both of their meetings during the regular season, with Colorado getting a second-half goal to salvage the draw in Dallas.
"We had all the tools we needed to beat Dallas," Smith said. "We've got a group of players that are very well-versed in the system they play. They're very comfortable with each other. We have two extremely good forwards who work well together and who are very creative. We have strength coming of the bench at important moments who can keep the momentum going.
"We're very comfortable in how we play, and we'll be very capable of putting this team under pressure," Smith said. "No doubt."
The forecast for Sunday's game calls for a high of 44 with a few showers, conditions that would seem to favor Colorado.
But if naysayers, Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy couldn't rattle Dallas, odds are bad weather won't either.
"If you can't get motivated for a MLS Cup, you have bigger issues than anything," Hartman said. "This is what you dream about. This is an opportunity to do something you've worked your entire life for. You've got one more week, you're going to lay it all on the line and do whatever you possibly can to help this team win."