TORONTO – The Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas each have a shot at their first MLS championship in franchise history on Sunday, but there’s also some rare individual history at stake for a player on each team.
FCD’s Dax McCarty and Colorado’s Jeff Larentowicz each have a shot to become the first redheaded player to win an MLS Cup since 2002, when MLS mainstay and proud ginger icon Alexi Lalas won a crown with the LA Galaxy.
Sunday’s match at BMO Field in Toronto marks the first time in league history that each MLS Cup team will start a redheaded player, guaranteeing a banner day for the people who the Greeks believed turned into vampires when they die.
“I’ve waited for this day for many years, and I recognize the fact that thousands, if not millions, believe the apocalypse is upon us,” Lalas said. “All I can say is that the mutant gene rises to the top. To my ginger brothers and sisters out there, I say rejoice, for our day is upon us."
Redheads make up roughly 1-2 percent of the world’s population, and approximately 2-6 percent of the population in the United States. The numbers are understandably similar in Major League Soccer for those who the Greek philosopher Aristotle dubbed “emotionally un-housebroken.”
Jim Curtin was the last redheaded player to compete in an MLS Cup, when his Chicago Fire fell to the San Jose Earthquakes in 2003. Real Salt Lake centerback Nat Borchers shares similar characteristics to red heads, including freckles and a pale complexion, but the club confirmed this week that Borchers is not, in fact, part of a group that has been scientifically proven to be more vulnerable to pain and heat.
“The No. 1 honor would be to win my first MLS Cup, but to be the first redhead since 2002 and to join one of my fellow boys who has won it, that would be fun,” McCarty said.
While McCarty will make his MLS Cup debut on Sunday, Larentowicz will appear in his third MLS Cup after runner-up finishes with the New England Revolution in 2006 and 2007. He’s perhaps the best known redheaded player in the league today, and has gone by the nickname “Ginger Ninja” since scoring an acrobatic goal against the Chicago Fire during a match in 2007.
In fact, Colorado fans often serenade Larentowicz during home matches at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a song entitled “The Ginger Ninja.”
“I’d be incredibly happy for all of us,” Larentowicz said of redheads, who boast an annual two-day festival in the Netherlands called Redheadday. “It’s a select group of people [to win the MLS Cup], and a select group, period.”
So what do redheads bring to an aspiring team, aside from sunblock? Lalas says it’s more than just a shared fate with Napoleon Bonaparte, Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman, 1980s teen film icon Molly Ringwald and of course, pop singer Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell.
“I can vouch for the fact that when you have a redhead running around on the field, he distracts in more ways than one,” Lalas said. “And that enables other players to not only perform better, but also to live a much better life off the field.”
While both McCarty and Larentowicz said they support a league-mandated quota on redheaded players for each team, they agreed that such a rule is unlikely to become reality in the near future.
“If you could find the right amount of guys to do it, there should be certainly be one on each team,” McCarty said. “But I’m struggling to think of more than 10 guys right now who would make it.”
And that situation may not improve, according to Lalas.
“I’ve been at MLS drafts in the past where a redhead has come up for possible draft selection, and he’s been bypassed,” Lalas said. “I don’t want to say it’s because of his hair, but I’ll say it. It’s because of his hair.
“Redheads are a dying breed,” said Lalas, who is factually incorrect with that statement. “Anything we can do to protect and promote them on the field and off the field, is justifiable and is in the spirit with the dream we started 15 years ago.”