TORONTO -- Schellas Hyndman was in Brazil in 2005, three years before he took over at FC Dallas, doing work for the national college coaches association. As he worked with Atlético Paranaense he was surprised to see a Colombian creating opportunities, wandering busily as the club's playmaker. Why, Hyndman wondered, would the land of creative talent need to cherry-pick a playmaking midfielder from Colombia?
"Well, it didn't take me long to recognize why he was so important to his team," Hyndman said Friday, when Ferreira was announced as the league's 15th Most Valuable Player. "When I got here as the coach, he was the first player I went out to get."
Dallas' implausibly durable playmaker was presented with the award Friday at BMO Field, where Ferreira hopes to cap his breakout season by lifting the MLS Cup trophy Sunday.
Ferreira finished ahead of fellow finalists Edson Buddle of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chris Wondolowski, the surprise Golden Boot winner from San Jose. In balloting by media, players and team officials, the Colombian creator finished with 20 percent of the vote, just ahead of Buddle (18.3 percent) and Wondolowski (14.6 percent). MLS also revealed Friday the other two prominent vote-getters, L.A.'s Landon Donovan (11.9 percent) and Philadelphia's Sebastien Le Toux (8.9 percent).
Ferreira's body of work for Dallas' landmark campaign -- this is the club's first MLS Cup final appearance -- is more than the eight goals and team-leading 13 assists, second in MLS to Donovan's 16. Ferreira's ability to retain possession in tight spots was central to Dallas' attractive, possession-oriented style. FCD goalkeeper Kevin Hartman said Friday that teammates quit trying to take the ball away from him in practice, having figured out long ago that it was essentially fruitless. Hartman was exaggerating for effect -- but probably not by much judging from the way Ferreira retains the ball so reliably in matches.
That's not bad at all for a guy whose salary, about $300,000 guaranteed this year, is a fraction of some of the high-dollar designated players.
"David Ferreira isn't a designated player for us," Hyndman said, "but he's the league MVP because he plays like a designated player."
MVP voting is all for the regular season. Still, Ferreira has certainly been a force in driving Dallas into Sunday's final, either scoring or assisting on five of FCD's six playoff goals. He struck for one terrific goal and provided one of his signature slicing passes for a late assist last week as the Red Stripes stunned Los Angeles 3-0.
Ferreira has increased his value through his ability to stay on the field; he played almost every minute of the 2010 season. Hyndman removed Ferreira late in one match so he could be recognized by the Pizza Hut Park crowd. That kind of durability isn't so easy for a small guy (listed at 5-foot-6) who also happens to be the most fouled player in the league.
Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu says his teammate's durability isn't as surprising for those around him every day.
"Seeing the work he does off the field, like being in the weight room -- he's always in the weight room," Ihemelu said. "He's always doing the little things to keep himself strong. He really knows how to take care of his body, how to eat right. He's always in the hot tub and in the cold tub before and after training. I think it's really paid off for him and kept him on the field, which is huge for us."
Ferreira's best work comes on offense, as he plays slightly ahead of Dax McCarty centrally in Dallas' 4-1-4-1 set-up, roaming almost as a second striker. But when Dallas wants to be a little more conservative or protect a lead, the shape looks more like a true 4-1-4-1, and Ferreira does his part.
"Recently, as the games have gotten bigger, he has really worked on the defensive end," Ihemelu said. "He'll come back, he'll track guys all the way back to our end of the field. As a defender, we really appreciate that and it motivates us to work even harder."
One other element that may be overlooked about the Colombian international: Dallas' lone-forward system would ideally require a traditional target presence, someone to hold balls and fight off defenders until midfielders could join. Neither first-choice striker Jeff Cunningham nor second-choice striker Milton Rodriguez is particularly well suited for the position. But Ferreira has been so good over the last year and a half that it really hasn't mattered. In fact, so much of Cunningham's surprising Golden Boot win in 2009 was really just finishing chances created out of Dallas' midfield, especially through Ferreira's good work.
It did take Ferreira about half a season to become productive upon his 2009 arrival. He was always technically proficient but, like a lot of MLS players, he didn't possess a full awareness of how much rough stuff MLS referees allow. Plus, it took the team a while to figure out just how good he was. It was about halfway through 2009 when it all started coming together, according to Dallas assistant John Ellinger.
"We all finally realized, if we get the ball to David, he'll find us," Ellinger said.
Dallas now has to secure its MVP, who has two option years remaining on the original loan deal from Atletico Paranaense. Hyndman said Friday that the club would work after the season to secure Ferreira over a longer period of time, and Ferreira said he wants the same thing.
"What he really brings is a true sense of professionalism," Hyndman said. "Every team that he's been involved with has found a way to have success. ... Whoever mentored him as a young player really did a terrific job, because David Ferreira is a competitor, and he's very gifted."