Ten Years After

The more it stays the same, the less it changes.
- Spinal Tap

Stephen Colbert did a segment on American soccer. And it didn't end up like my old nightmare, where the Craig Kilborn-era "Daily Show" sends a comedian/reporter into a supporters section in order to mock us mercilessly.

I hate to keep beating this drum, but I want to write it down again, for the benefit of future archaeologists in case my monitor gets fossilized. In 2009, the United States gave a crap about the Confederations Cup.

Well...okay, they gave a crap about the US Men's National Team performing very well against quality opponents. But this confirms what we saw in the wee morning hours of 2002 - this country is ready to embrace the national team.

Just to compare an apple to an iMac for a second - almost exactly ten years ago, the United States played in a tournament where they played Brazil tough, beat Germany, and lost to Mexico in one of the true classics in the history of that rivalry. They finished third in that tournament, which, of course, was the Westminster Dog Show...no, just kidding. It was the Confederations Cup. (Oh, my GOD, look at Mexico's EASY-ASS bracket that year!)

The differences? Well, Germany was hideous that year - as you can see, Brazil pantsed them the game before we did. Mexico won the whole thing, which means it wasn't anything US Soccer was going to write epic poetry about. And it was only a year after the Nats did their tribute to the Exxon Valdez in France.

Oh, and the outside world ignored it like a schizophrenic homeless man on the subway. It wasn't even on proper television - I saw the US-Mexico game on closed-circuit in a Mexican restaurant. Food wasn't even that good.

Will we get round-the-clock soccer coverage now? Not really. The best example I can think of won't make sense to people outside LA County, but...the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have a hard, hard, hardcore fan base in the thousands, and hundreds of thousands who wish them well, when they think about them, which isn't that often. So when the Kings do well, the city sort of wakes up and hops on the bandwagon. When the Kings have their thumbs up their asses losing to Nashville or Columbus or Omaha or wherever the crap, then people leave them alone.

So it's not the end of the world if the American Idol auditions masquerading as the Gold Cup ends up with Mexico winning. People won't suddenly turn on American soccer, at least people besides Jim Rome and Jamie Trecker. The rest of the country will wait patiently until the Nats do something noteworthy.

If the US keeps up this progress, then in ten years, the Confederations Cup will be broadcast in prime time, with a three hour pre-game show and President I Nearly Said Obama Then I Remembered How The Constitution Works yelling at Coach...I dunno, Schmid? Kinnear, maybe...to put in Frankie Hejduk. (Well, not EVERYTHING will change.)

[Arlo Guthrie] But that's not what I wanted to talk about. [/Alice's Restaurant]

The USL has proven that it's a better league than MLS.

If you're annoyed with reading things like that, then you might want to join me under a rock for the next few months, because last night, MLS partied like it was 1999. Gary Smithism is running rampant in MLS. Chicago, New England, Chivas USA, and the Columbus Crew are free to concentrate on the Supporters Shield, free of the burdensome fixture congestion that the USSF imposes on eight MLS teams each year.

Chicago and Columbus are the shocking results here, because the Fire until recently were the one MLS team who could be relied on to treat the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with the respect it deserves. And Columbus, because, y'know, Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Way to do him proud, guys. At least the Fire had the excuse of another garbage tournament taking up their attention.

This is a huge difference from ten years ago, when oh wait, no, the same thing happened - MLS teams half-assed it, and had half of their asses bitten off.

When "upsets" happen more than half the time, we probably need to redefine our definition of the term. Let's assume, just for the hell of it, that top to bottom, MLS teams are better than USL teams. But we can also assume that the bottom half of MLS rosters are not better than USL starters. Why are MLS teams almost always choosing to make the probability of losing vastly higher, year in and year out?

Because there's no percentage in winning. The last four winners or so, for their troubles, a warm feeling of accomplishment, their names enrolled alongside the all-time great players and teams in US history...and years of on and off-field turmoil. They might as well have won the FA Cup, while they were at it.

I wish I could suggest something productive, instead of saying "Hey, look at this problem." Just saying "The Open Cup is on its way to becoming the amateur tournament it was between 1931 and 1994" isn't helpful. If telling the truth was helpful, [INSERT LAME, BLAND POLITICAL JOKE WORTHY OF LENO OR ROBIN WILLIAMS HERE].

I do know who to blame, and it isn't MLS teams. MLS teams exist to make a profit. The US Open Cup doesn't help achieve that goal, therefore, it's meringue at best. The USSF has to do something to make the Open Cup worthwhile to MLS teams.

From the USL perspective, this problem is like being too rich or too thin. My response to that is, "Karen Carpenter." Upsets are only valuable if the opponent was worth upsetting. Another year of beating players who just happened to be wearing MLS shirts temporarily isn't going to increase the league's prestige.

There probably is a sweet spot here, for everyone's good. I don't REALLY want to see eight MLS quarterfinalists out of eight year in and year out - that's what MLS Cup is for. But that's better than two, one, or zero out of sixteen MLS-level teams in the earlier round. The USSF needs to find a way to get MLS teams to commit, but not TOO much.