Thursday, July 20, 2006

While We Were Away

As the World Cup absorbed 99 percent of my football attention, I more or less ignored the jaw-dropping annihilation of Major League Soccer at the hands of DC United. United—perhaps the classiest and most legit club in MLS from Day One, with apologies to the Chicago Fire and maybe (*maybe*) Los Angeles—suddenly elevated itself to a new plane of existence this year. In a league where it often feels like every team is playing .500 ball (except New York), DC has been beaten once. Once. In the midst of a 13-match unbeaten run, they took time out to humiliate Celtic in a friendly, 4-0. Sure, it was just a friendly. Sure, Celtic is barely awake after the summer break. But that's a squad from maligned MLS laying utter waste to a Champions League side. Take warning.

Times like these make MLS execs glad they've resisted purist calls for a single-table, points-only championship. United is 11 points clear of FC Dallas, the league's next-best side, and *20* clear of New England, their closest Eastern Conference rival. They've gone all Chelsea on our asses, and if Vegas actually ran a line on the Supporters Shield, the bookies would need to refuse further bets. Like Chelsea, United could probably stick its reserve team into the league and do just fine.

The unfortunate flip-side of MLS's format is that the whole beautiful thing might come to naught in the play-offs—what is clearly one of the greatest teams in American soccer history could lose it all if they have an off-day in the single-leg conference championship. That would be a waste—especially if it means another dire MLS Cup Final like last year's excruciating Galaxy victory.

But meanwhile, United's dominance gives us some Stateside action worth watching even as the all-singing, all-dancing Euro leagues prepare for their annual extravaganza. Hey, it may not have the drama, the history, the big names, the match-fixing or the free-spending Russian oil tycoons, but it's ours!


Lucas said...

And it will only get better because of fans going to games, and journalists such as yourself taking it seriously (and higher salaries and a less stiflingly monolithic ownership paradigm...and a team in Portland). Good job.

Zach Dundas said...

I think the ownership model is transitioning as we speak. Red Bull obviously has the green light to remake New York as they see fit. I, of course, would love to see member-owned clubs a la Barcelona (or maybe community-minded non-profits like Montreal Impact, easily the best team in USL1 this year)....but that ain't gonna happen, is it?