Yes, there was "work" to be done. And yes, Liverpool played a very good bottle of French wine in the Champions League. But Chelsea v. Barcelona? That's a cultural event of global significance (sort of like if the 1965 Beatles and 1967 Rolling Stones could play a show together—scientists, can I get a wot-wot?). So no doubt as to where the entire XIDevils editorial staff was bound at 11.30 PST today: bar-side!
I met two-thirds of A Pretty Move along the rail at the Thirsty Lion in the heart of Portland's historic Skidmore Fountain district, conveniently located near a couple puking tramps. It felt good to be back in the glare of huge, flat-screen TVs and in the company of mid-day drinkers again, so long after the World Cup.
Our hearts were with Barcelona—well, duh—and we were joined by a polite lone Chelsea fan, a suited-up young stockbroker-type with a shiny tie who could probably buy and sell me and my soccer-blog empire. (I swear I am not making that up. Apt, eh?) Sadly, the Londoners decoded the Catalans with ease. From the first minutes, when Barca was forced to play chase like a pack of toy dogs, to the last, ditto, Chelsea was better as a side and man-for-man. Ronaldhino has officially been solved—he was the definition of useless today: bobbing, weaving, shucking and jiving to zero avail against The Cannibal's dead-simple but ruthlessly effective jabs. Messi seemed a little out of his depth on the other side, though he did provide the rare glimmer of a chance.
Deprived of wings, Barca had to try to pummel through the center, where they invariably met a wall of pricey Russian-grain-fed beef. Chelsea didn't have much nuance; the Special One devised a clever plan consisting of A) tackle the ball away and B) run like hell at the goal. After Drogba incinerated the Barca net at 47', they didn't need any fancy tricks. The Blues contentedly watched Barca bollix up one increasingly misbegotten attempt at beautiful-game silkiness after another, though just for sport they occasionally gave Shevchenko a run forward so he could fall down, stand up and make that face at the referee.
1-0. A deflating experience all 'round, like a four-game Yankees sweep in the series. The group-stage format gives Barca a chance to right the ship, but they just didn't have much today at all.
Albina Going FC, on the other hand, transformed into the very picture of free-flowing, gun-slinging Total Futsal last night, putting 16—this is not a typographical error—past some pretty quality opposition in our Second Division match. Weirdly enough, the bulk of our scoring came after I stopped playing the field and went in goal. (?) I did okay back there, though I did suffer the indignity of deflecting a corner kick into my own net.
But that's all the proverbial sub-pontine water. After an extremely rocky start, the Unicorns have now won two "on the trot" (as they say, hee hee). If we win our last game of the season (and, basically, if every other team figures out a way to lose) we could go as high as third in the nine-team league. Forza Albina! Allez les Unicorns!
The Major League Soccer play-offs are upon us. And if you don't exactly feel the earthquake of excitement (sorry for the Proustian pang of regret there, San Jose fans), you are not alone. The American top tier's championship format—eight teams, home-and-away first legs and then knock-out play—manages the neat trick of making both the regular season and post season seem irrelevant. As this perceptive and fair-minded article points out, no one really likes it. And yet the notion of settling the title with some kind of tournament seems here to stay.
And in all fairness, the play-offs have produced the only truly memorable moments in MLS, ever. DC United's golden-goal victory in the first-ever Final, played in an apocalyptic downpour outside Boston, remains my favorite league game. San Jose's fluid demolition of Chicago in a six-goal clash a few years back was pretty sweet, too. (Last year's Final, a dire 1-0 AET win by the LA Galaxy, provides a counter-example of what you risk when you stake a whole season on a single game.) So what to do?
As usual, Eleven Devils has the solution. Eight teams make the playoffs—whether through regional conferences or a single table, doesn't matter. Those eight teams are seeded into two groups based on their regular season performance. This year, using two conferences, the groups would be:
#2 New England
#4 New York
#1 FC Dallas
#3 Chivas USA
Every team plays every other team in its group in a three-round series. Three points for a win, a point for a draw, just like always. The top-seeded team in each group plays *every* game at home; #2 plays two home games and away vs. #1; #3 hosts only its game against #4; the poor bottom seed must play every game away. Then, you can either have a one-game semi between the top two, or send the top-of-group sides directly to a Final. Either way, you put a huge premium on regular-season performance, yet maintain the excitement of the play-offs.
Don Garber, you fucking owe me, son.