Houston Dynamo vs. LA Galaxy: 5 Terrible Things About the MLS Cup
The Beckham story ended in a fairytale. After five years of tribulation, David Beckham hoisted the MLS Cup high, and both MLS and LA Galaxy executives wiped their sweaty brows.
Fans in LA will be rightfully celebrating their cup win.
The LA Galaxy outclassed every other team in Major League Soccer this year, and it's about time that the best team won.
The media will celebrate as well. The brilliant bit of passing play from David Beckham to Robbie Keane to Landon Donovan linked up the Galaxy's three designated players for the game-winning goal. That's a jackpot.
ESPN might have just renamed the MLS Cup the Beckham Cup. Late in the game, their collective wish almost came true when Tally Hall stretched to deny Beckham's free kick. Had it gone in, commentators John Harkes and Ian Darke would have literally exploded.
But not everything about the MLS Cup was kittens and gum drops. While we're all singing the praises of the MLS Cup (as we should), we might also take a moment to recognize the five most terrible things about the game.
That's Not a Pitch, That's a Gopher Field.
If the MLS Cup taught us anything, it's that the MLS continues to ignore its pitch problem. Before the players took the field, the pitch was pocked with divots that could only have been put there by a pack of rabid dogs. By the end of the game, players were falling over embarrassingly.
October's USA versus Ecuador friendly at Red Bull Arena revealed the same humiliating state, where tractor marks from the night's previous snow ran perpendicular through the pitch.
Gone are the days of football field marks on our soccer fields. Major League Soccer can be applauded for their decision to push teams into soccer specific stadiums (SSS). This year's unveiling of Livestrong Sporting Park is testament to the success of these stadiums.
But while Sporting Kansas City ply their trade on real grass in a brilliant setting, most of the new SSS's have field turf or have to share their field with monster truck rallies, leaving players with pitches not unlike Home Depot Center's. American fans should blush when foreign teams come to play. "This is what you call a pitch?" they must ask. And we can only use the, "Yes, but you should see the Kansas City stadium!" excuse for so long.
Fans and pundits continually bemoan the physical style of Major League Soccer, but players can't weave intricate passes on a pitch that sends balls hopping along the surface.
Money, Money, Money
Reaction to the MLS Cup from Houston fans (and other Galaxy-haters) was predictable: "They're like the New York Yankees!" The Twitter-drone that ensued continued to bemoan the "buying of the Cup." This complaint has no merit.
First, if any team has tried to buy the Cup, it is the New York Red Bulls. This effort in futility is only made more enjoyable by the Red Bulls' terrible play. The Red Bulls have the likes of Thierry Henry, Joel Lindpere, Teemu Tainio, Dax McCarty, Rafa Marquez and Dane Richards. Sure, the LA Galaxy have Robbie Keane up front, but they have to pair him with Adam Cristman. If Philip Anschutz and AEG wanted to buy the Cup, do you really think they would have Adam Cristman in the starting XI?
More importantly, the LA Galaxy's budget only goes to show that other owners need to start spending. This isn't to say they should go for broke and pull a Leeds United, but it isn't as if Bob Kraft and the New England Revolution are losing money. Instead, there are too many owners who are happy making their profit and ignoring the quality of play.
If you want to win a trophy, you can't do it on the cheap. Importing complaints from other leagues that the Cup can be bought only distracts us from the real problem: too many owners don't want to try and buy the Cup.
The Beckham Fairy Tale
Viewers of the MLS Cup might have noticed that there was this guy named David Beckham playing, and he is, you know, kind of a big deal.
John Harkes reminded us that Beckham plays with passion, which apparently no other player on the pitch does. There were quite a few people at the bar where I watched who had heard enough about David Beckham.
They're right. There were certainly a few other players on the pitch, including the Houston defenders who played brilliantly all night. However, all the anti-Beckham backlash fails to miss the simple fact that, for 90 minutes, Beckham outplayed every one else. Landon Donovan bagged the goal with a magical finish, but for the rest of the game, it was Beckham—running from box to box, making tackles and putting in laser-sighted passes—who was the man of the match.
If not for Robbie Keane's wasteful shooting, the scoreline could have been 3-0. Beckham lofted a few passes over the Dynamo's back line that could not have come from any player that night other than David Beckham.
Beckham paired with Juninho in the center of the park, but his partner was largely absent from playmaking duties. It was Beckham every time, making those incisive passes.
As if to only shore up his Messianic claims, we're also told that Beckham tore his hamstring earlier in the week and yet he played.
Beckham is a divisive player, even to LA Galaxy fans. However, the backlash that continually dogs his heels fails to remember that this is a player who can still put on a magical performance.
The Houston Dynamo
Remember the Houston Dynamo? You might remember them as the other team who played in the MLS Cup. They were the team that holed up in their own half, praying for a set-piece that would meet the mystical head of Brian Ching and carry them toward victory.
The Dynamo, to be sure, are set-piece wizards. Already in the postseason, they had scored five goals from them. Pundits kept telling us that this would be a game of set-pieces, and it seems like Houston bought that storyline.
But it didn't have to be so. Houston are not the brutes the media would make them out to be. They don't knock the ball forward and look for a foul to set themselves up. This is a team that can play soccer. Why, oh why, didn't they play soccer?
Thankfully, this year's MLS Cup included one team that wanted to play soccer. Last year's Cup could have been billed as a double-header with WWE as the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas bludgeoned their way through 120 minutes. It was agonizing and hardly a positive advertisement for what MLS can be.
MLS can be really quite pleasing soccer. LA Galaxy tried to show this as they moved the ball down the pitch, and players like Sean Johnson weaved around defenders. It can also be physical and somewhat drab.
The good news is that skillful play won the day. The terrible news is that otherwise interesting teams like the Dynamo feel they have to play a particularly horrid brand of soccer in order to stand a chance.
This year, Major League Soccer got lucky. Their policy of choosing a neutral venue for the MLS Cup happened to award the final to the league's best team.
The result? The Home Depot center was filled with fans who cared. You could hear their singing and see entire sections of supporters' groups (including the very admirable Houston fans).
The difference between 2011 and 2010 was remarkable. Where the 2010 final was held in Toronto, home to a very rabid group of fans, those fans weren't so rabid for someone else's teams. When the game went to extra time, a large portion of the stadium emptied out. It was a school night, after all. It was an embarrassment that apparently taught the MLS brass a lesson.
Before the game, MLS Commissioner Don Garber told fans at the annual Supporters' Summit that next year's final will be competitively decided.
While it was good to hear some singing and see the eventual orange smoke bomb from the Houston fans, it was hard to not wish that one of the teams with superfans showed up.
When Portland plays at home, the Timbers Army unveil massive banners. The Section 8 fans of the Chicago Fire have staged elaborate and hellish scenes that resemble the tragedy for which the team is named. MLS supporters' groups have stepped into a new level of Tifo and unfortunately, we didn't get to witness much at the MLS Cup.
So this one isn't so terrible as much as lamentable. Here's to hoping that the new, rabid face of Major League Soccer makes it into next year's final.