Right about now is probably a good time to start yet another serious discussion of finding a better way to determine a winner in a soccer match of enormous magnitude besides the dreaded PK shootout.
Not that I'm a fan of the thing - far from it. It's just that the gut punch delivered to the Fire and their fans last night after 120 minutes of emotion, drama and desire seems worthy of something more than just another tedious discussion of the rules of the game.
For now, well, this stuff is why we hold playoffs: Have a great season but hit a dry patch at the wrong time and you go home with the Shield and some "What ifs". Limp through the season like the Little Sisters of the Poor but catch fire at the right time, and end up playing for the Cup.
If this stuff didn't happen - and happen pretty regularly - there'd be no point in holding playoffs. When yours is the team that ended the season with the better record it all seems so unfair. When yours is the team that just snuck into the field and suddenly remembers how to play, it's a heck of a fun ride.
Just one thing:
When the opposing keeper has a reputation for PK killing, and has already blocked two shots sent to his left, perhaps sending your attempt to the same place is, um, well...not the smartest of plans:
A couple weeks back, in this very space, I drew some corollaries between the Red Bulls in 2008 and the Salt Lakers in 2009.
Last year the East was a beast, a dominance which culminated in the fifth place (eighth overall) Bulls - the last team to squeak into the playoffs - winning the Western Conference Championship and playing in MLS Cup against the team that finished the regular season on top of the Eastern Division.
The team NY beat in that final was, of course, Real Salt Lake.
I noted it only in passing, as sort of a nice pat on the head to those cute dreamers from RSL who were surely being led to the slaughter at the hands of one or another of the top teams in the east.
So of course the exact same thing happens in reverse: the fifth place Royals, the last-day-of-the-season playoffs wire stretchers, are now the Eastern Conference Champions and will play the top team in their own (ie. Western) Conference for the Cup next Sunday.
Two years in a row, the team coming in with the worst record in the playoffs will compete for the Cup. Some people will claim this is a bug.
They're wrong: it's a feature.
(By the way, would somebody ask Christopher Sullivan how Will Johnson (supposedly) felt about playing the Fire? Did Sully think Johnson had any, like, personal motivations last night? Any particular animus towards the opponents? I didn't quite catch it the first 8,012 times that he talked about it.
Good God, the man is like a parrot. Or a six year old.)
Athletes and fans tend to be a superstitious lot particularly, as many people have noted, in soccer.
Of course we all know intellectually that not changing ones' socks or eating the exact same breakfast on game day or walking through doorways backwards or whatever else you can dream up doesn't really have a damn thing to do with the outcome of a soccer match, particularly when you're only sitting in the stands or watching on TV 1000 miles away.
Still, there's a world of difference between knowing deep down that it's all a bunch of horse pucky and spitting in the eye of the soccer gods.*
The only thing sports fans love better than a good superstition is an arcane statistical fact, so here's one to chew on:
In the 11 years that Brian McBride has been on an MLS side, his teams have made it to the Eastern Conference finals 6 times.
Which would be a pretty strong endorsement except that as of this morning his record in those games is a perfect 0-6.
*Examples of Soccer Gods into whose eye one dare not spit: