I've been trying all morning to come up with a dispassionate, arms-length professional-journalist-type approach to the Crew v. Fire match last night.
Since that isn't working out - how do you spend three hours standing smack in between La Turbina Amarillo and Crew Union on the night that Columbus wins the first Conference championship in their history and then make like Jack Bell or Beau Dure?
So in between making travel arrangements for LA and answering emails, I'm taking a stab at pounding out something resembling intelligent thought (yeah, yeah, "so why should today be any different?" you're asking) about the match last night.
If you saw it, then you know how it played out: the Fire pretty much owned the first half, scoring on a Brian McBride header (had to be weird, getting lustily booed in the very building that was once the world headquarters of the First Church of McHead) when - incredibly - the Fire got the exact matchup they doubtless spent all week praying for: BMB on O'Rourke and/or Padula.
Dennis Hamlett likely laid awake since last Saturday, dreaming and scheming and hoping for Chad Marshall to lose the guy in front of the goal, and suddenly, there it was, just like he'd drawn it up.
Nobody is saying exactly what Sigi Schmid said in the locker room at the half. All this season, people have been telling us that The Big Man had "mellowed" that he isn't as "fiery" any more, that he "doesn't get in your face like he used to."
Well if that's true then Robert Warzycha must have taken up group motivation because the Crew came out at the whistle like someone had set their pants on fire. Personally, I suspect that the kinder, gentler Sigi took the rest of the evening off.
If nothing else, after the game resumed the aforementioned Mr. McBride wore Chad Marshall around like a vicuna coat. You started to worry that if their bodies spent much more time plastered together that Mrs. McB might need to start worrying a bit if you know what I mean.
You could feel the momentum shift, turning into a continental drift after the first goal and with a packed house going completely insane around them you somehow guessed that after the Crew went up six minutes later it was all done but the dwarf tossing.
I don't know how much the atmosphere had to do with it; clearly the players and coaches all feel it made a difference, and while I tend to downplay much of that kind of talk as "Please buy a damn ticket" blabber, still and all you have to say that the same game played in Bridgeview could easily have had a very different outcome.
But that's the point, isn't it? The Crew won the Shield, won the conference, had the best regular season record and thereby EARNED the right to play in front of several thousand screaming meemies.
People want to say that the MLS regular season doesn't mean anything. Well, maybe so, but you might have a difficult time convincing the Fire of that this morning as they all make appointments with the team audiologist to check out the sudden hearing deficit they're experiencing this morning.
Sure there are other elements, lots of them, foremost among them, it seems to me, is that in the second half particularly the Crew came out and played their game, while Chicago seemed more concerned with responding to the opponent than they were in playing in the manner that got them there.
Hamlett will take some hest for this game, perhaps rightfully so. When a team doesn't play up to it's potential it's hard to look elsewhere.
He may be guilty of falling into the same trap that has doomed coaches and teams on two coninents now: the "Brian McBride out there on an island" school of tactics. It didn't work in Columbus, it didn't work at Everton it dodn't work for the USA and it won't work now. Yes, of course, he's a wonderful target forward, but he needs people running off of him. Hamlett couldn' seem to arrange that very often, making his attack sorely predictable.
Sigi for his part continued to make AEG look ridiculous with the "you don't play attractive, attacking soccer, you're just interested in defense" they laid on the guy. I can think of no better example than what we saw in the 80th minute, when Schmid took out Barros-Schelotto. His team a goal up with ten minutes to play in the biggest match in franchise history and he put in Emmanuel Ekpo, a run-and-gun Nigerian forward who can't spell defense if you spot him the D and the vowels.
So much for overly conservative, defensive oriented coaching.
The only sour note in an otherwise brilliant match - unless you were a Fire fan looking at a cheerless dinner yanked out of a vending machine at three AM somewhere in Indiana - was the post-match churlishness of Jon Busch, who refused to shake Sigi's hand, used a word that used to get your mouth washed out with soap (before we started letting kids do whatever the hell they want for fear of "stifling their individuality), and then, reportedly, turned back and ran at him looking for all the world like he intended to take a swing at him.
Leaving aside tasteless jokes about the dubious value of landing a body blow on Jabba the Hutt, and the fact that the teammates who grabbed him likely prevented him from getting hit with the largest fine in league history (and since Garber was about 30 feet away, we wouldn't have had to wait for him to review the tapes), Jon needs to get over it.
Yes, Sigi cut you. Yes, you think you got a raw deal. But guess what, sport: this is professional athletics and that'll happen. Like a famous Sicilian philosopher once said, "It's not personal - it's strictly business", and nobody in their right mind believes that Sigi would hesitate for one second to cut his own brother if he felt he had someone better.
Anyway, it's on to LA for the Massive Canaries, and here's hoping the Bulls and the Stormin Mormons can give us that good a show on Saturday.