Move over, Silky Johnson:
I'm going for Hater of the Year. And I don't care how many five-year-old-plus jokes I have to reference to get there.
Okay, the Western Conference race this year. I don't know who's actually going to win - probably Houston, but LA holds every tiebreaker, and CUSA has a game in hand, and I think Seattle still has a shot. But you know what they're competing for? The 1993 Song of the Year Grammy. The Galaxy are "Tears In Heaven." It was such a horrible, unspeakable tragedy the year before that people feel sorry for them. And besides, look at the alternatives. Think of Houston as Celine Dion, and Chivas USA as "Achy Breaky Heart." MLS in 2009 will go down in history as the season Linda Ronstadt won two Grammys, for Best Mexican-American Album and Best Tropical Latin Album.
Also, I forgot to tell you, I'm going for Metaphor of the Year.
I'll go into why the Galaxy are so richly hateful in a second, but I wanted to spend a little extra time* on the reaction to Beckham winning Man of the Match. Prost had it here, but stuff like this?
I could read that over and over again. (Fortunately, I think Chris McGrath and I are competing in different Metaphor of the Year categories. Otherwise, I'm toast.)
This controversy has made it pointless to write a paragraph or six about how the Houston Dynamo, based on how they did against England's best player, would go undefeated, untied and unscored upon in the Premiership. But the only thing I hate more than David Beckham is a dead horse.
Did any of you see Beckham in the first half, when he gritted his teeth at the ref like a mad dog? Yeah, it was funny. Except that was the second best play he had of the day. His best play was his assist in getting Ching sent off.
(For those of you who didn't see it - basically, Ching was Moe, Beckham was Larry, and Gregg Berhalter was Curly. That sequence started when Beckham made a hilarious tackle on Ricardo Clark, whereupon Clark lost his temper - again - and grabbed Beckham by the head. No card, which means it's now legal in MLS to thump David Beckham in the head. Thank you, MLS Rules Committee.)
But that's your 2009 first-place Los Angeles Galaxy. You give them a man advantage on the road, and they can come away with a 0-0 tie with the best of them.
Why, you might ask, am I not satisfied with first place? Why can't I get behind Beckham, Kovalenko, Kirovski, Magee, and all the other stars Bruce Arena has convinced to play for the most beloved team in MLS?
Just to prove I'm not imagining things, take a look at the standings. Looks great! Yeah, now take a look at goal differential.
The Galaxy are five games over .500, and have a +3 goal differential. That's pretty much impossible. It's the second worst in the division. (It would be third best in the Eastern Conference, but the Eastern Conference this year are the other guys looking at Smilin' Bob in the Enzyte commercials.)
Not convinced? Take a look at home goal differential. -1. You know who else has a -1 home goal differential this year? New York. Only Wiz, Quakes, Fire and Red Bull fans got less from their home games this year. Sixteen goals scored at home this year excites envy only from City and Fire fans. And the Fire's home suckage has fans rioting in the streets of Naperville. (They never got over the Fire moving to Toyota Park. Sad, really.)
"Yeah, but if you take away that 6-3 game against Dallas-"
Yes, because, we're allowed to take one game a year off the schedule. That's why the Galaxy are five-time MLS Cup winners.
Fine, it was just a bad evening. A bad evening, at home, with the Supporters Shield theoretically on the line. But let's not count an important, high-stakes game, rather than count it double. Without that game, the Galaxy have an overall goal differential within screaming distance of respectable. The only problem is, without that 6-3 game, the Galaxy are averaging less than a goal a game at home. Oops.
So when I say watching the Galaxy this year was an unpleasant chore, I'm not just crying myself to sleep in my old 1998 jersey. I mean, I am, but I'm not just imagining things.
Am I a bad fan? Maybe. But so are a few thousand others. Last year, the Galaxy led the league averaging 26,009 fans a game. This year? 19,946. Something like six thousand fans a week liked finishing last more than finishing first.
Yes, there are other factors for the attendance collapse, ITTET. But the Galaxy, despite their record, are still putting out a bad product. Tying isn't everything.
"What if the Galaxy win MLS Cup?" Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, and Tim Leiweke, arm in arm, basking in the adulation of the not-Kingdome crowd, while the announcers go wild. Sure, the soccer gods will permit that.
Besides, it's the last week of the season, and we haven't even bothered to rule out things like "Toronto FC - MLS Cup Champions" yet. Crappier seasons than this can be redeemed by MLS Cup - and better seasons than this were ruined by "We'll turn it on in the playoffs."
Y'know what, the MVP race is now really interesting.
Do you give Schelotto credit for the Crew? They're not as dominant as they were last year - they haven't even bothered to clinch the shield - and GBS' stats and minutes aren't what they were last year.
It's not Shalrie Joseph's fault that New England has ground to a halt, but....
It's not Landon Donovan's fault that the US national team had so many games, but....
I'm pretty much Dallas making the playoffs = Jeff Cunningham MVP, at this point. But what if Dallas doesn't?
I'm almost willing to buy into the Geoff Cameron hype. Houston loses without that clearance, and yeah, you don't pick MVP based on one play, but talk about a handy symbol. (He should also get votes for overcoming Luis Angel Landin. Denilson called, he said you were a bad choice for a designated player.)
It would be appropriate to give the MVP to a defender this year. Allow me to take way too long to explain.
Last year, Pat Onstad won the overall goalkeeping title with a 1.03 GAA. He's doing even better this year, with 0.93. How far ahead of his closest competitor is he? -.15. Zach Thornton is likely uncatchable at this point, seeing as how he's injured. There are four keepers averaging under a goal a game so far this year.
Compare shots against from last year to this year. Look especially at shots faced and saves. Keepers were freaking shelled last year across the league. This year, the name of the game is breaking down plays before shots can be taken. Sigi wins a title again, Bruce Arena reins in the Galaxy, the expansion pool hits forwards harder than defenders...and here we are.
Jon Busch is a perfect means of comparison.
2008: 155 shots faced, 122 saves, 33 goals against, 1.10 GAA. Second in the league behind Onstad.
2009: 134 shots faced, 100 saves, 34 goals against, 1.17 GAA. Wait for it...eighth in the league.
I'm not saying this is, by definition a problem...well, I have a hunch that "letting them play" means "letting them foul in midfield," but that would take a lot of research to prove. Without that proof, there's nothing that says excellent defense and defensive midfield play can't be celebrated for its own sake.
No, just kidding, it's midfield fouling. But MLS defense was a joke leaguewide last year (well, outside Chicago and Columbus), so just for the spirit of the game, it's nice to see a return to form. Goals shouldn't be cheap.
*said with Veronica Paysse oomph