Monday, November 19, 2007

The MLS Cup Final in 20,000 Words or Less

Any day that starts with a televised football match at 9 am is a good day, but in past years I have tuned in to Major League Soccer's championship decider with the knowledge that it would probably be a downer. One could call it the Denver Broncos Effect, in honor of those years-gone Super Bowls when the Broncos would barely show up: when a league stakes a whole season on a single game, the vagaries of sport pretty much guarantee that the game will disappoint at least sometimes. I used to make a practice of inviting a non-soccer-nerd pal over to watch the Final ("hey, it's the championship game—it'll be fun!"), but I learned my lesson after last year's 120-minute torture session at the hands of the Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution.

With those two teams matched up again yesterday, my expectations are low. I even went out of my way to dis the stolid but successful Revs in an earlier post. I now must issue a formal apology to all concerned, because Don't-Call-It-Soccerbowl '07 turned out to be pretty damn good.

Not fantastic, not a classic, not great, but pretty damn good. Both teams went for the jugular, and New England—thanks to the pacy Khano Smith and the immortal Steve Ralston (did I just type that?)—showed plenty of attacking gusto. But what I really liked was the game's hardboiled, fundamentally American nature. Everyone got stuck in; tackles were flying; Smith gave Craig Weibel a modified Glasgow handshake right in front of the ref. Pat Onstad's blind save on the flying header in injury time was a straight shot of voltage; to fake a Ray Hudson comment, the whole contest had more end-to-end action than a San Fernando Valley feature film.

It's also interesting, ain't it, that for all the talk over the years about how MLS needed more Latin flair or European know-how, the two teams that came out on top this season are just about pure Norte Americano products—a bunch of guys from Canada, the Caribbean and Los Estados Unidos who work hard, tackle with venom and, yes, can pull off the odd moment of magic.

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