Not Art, But Not Bad

There are a lot of things you can say about 2009 MLS Champion Real Salt Lake and their improbable - impossible? - run to the Cup.

But one thing nobody can ever say is that they got it on the cheap.

In order to earn the right to stand on that teeny-tiny little stage they always erect for the awards ceremony so that the photos look like a mob scene instead of 25 people standing on a few sheets of plywood in the middle of a big empty field, they had to defeat, in order, the Columbus Crew, the Chicago Fire and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

That's pretty much the best MLS can throw at anyone, and it includes most of the leagues biggest stars in Schelotto, Blanco, McBride, Donovan and Beckham.

No small achievement when the most widely recognized player you can send out there is creaky old Clint Mathis.

If none of those wins - with the possible exception of the come-from-behind win over CBus - was exactly a masterpiece of the art of football, well, they don't give extra credit for style.

What they DO do is give out Cups for winning, and RSL got themselves one.

The complaint window is closed.

Zelmo Beatty would be so proud.

He was the star of the last Salt Lake City based professional team to win a league championship when he led the 1971 Utah Stars to the ABA title over the late, lamented Kentucky Colonels.

If that seems like a long time ago to you, well, that's because it is. What's probably more important is that MLS has already outlasted the ABA's 9 year life span.

Someone must have forgotten to show Landon Donovan the script last night. It was supposed to be David Beckham who hacked his PK attempt, not the US Soccer/MLS Player of the year.

Amazingly, there are only two MLS goalkeepers who have ever stopped a Landon Donovan penalty kick: Nick Rimando and RSL's current GK coach, Jeff Cassar.

Rimando went to his left but he might as well not have bothered as LDo's attempt to hit the roof of the net soared into the stands instead.

Overall though there were only two spot kicks of the "What the hell was that?" category: Andy Williams' weak roller that gave Josh Saunders no trouble whatsoever, and Edson Buddles' almost identical gamekiller.

LA fans may protest that Jovan Kirovskis' attempt fell well short of brilliance as well, but that seemed to be more of a case of telegraphing the shot. Everyone on the field, everyone in the stands and everyone watching on TV knew exactly where he was sending it two strides before he struck the ball.

Maybe he was double-double crossing Rimando: "if it's obvious I'm sending it left, maybe Nickie will believe that nobody could possibly be so obvious and, thus, figure that I'm faking him out" or some such.

Just another reason why Dema Kovalenko should have been out there. Nobody ever accused him of thinking too much.

The atmosphere was everything MLS could have asked for and more. Too bad the play wasn't always of the same quality. That's the way it often is in championship games though.

Fortunately, the raging emotions and a hard-partying crowd pretty much made up for it.

But if the ragged, frantic and disjointed play, particularly early on, didn't clue you in to the waves of emotion the players were wrestling with, then the reaction of RSL lynchpin Javier Morales to having to come out with an injury eliminated any doubt as the Argentine buried his head in his jersey and sobbed inconsolably.

That said, can't someone convince ESPN that while a little pathos is good TV, after a while it becomes voyeuristic? Enough, guys, enough. We got it.

I'm not going to belabor the issue but I was almost relieved when the Royals' opened the second half without Will Johnson. After being told 50 times during the Conference final that he had an axe to grind with the Fire, if the broadcasters had mentioned Johnsons' food poisoning episode one more time, I would have been the one throwing up.

Findlay looked dangerous all night long but repeatedly he'd blow past Berhalter like the guy was standing still only to find him in the way again after the eight or ten touches it seemed to take Robbie to get a handle on the ball again.

Speed is a wonderful thing, but maybe if he cranked it down half a notch he could control the ball a little better.

One of the many cool touches of the night came even before the first kick, when ESPN had a camera in Jason Kreis' face as he sat on the bench waiting for the whistle. He was trying to give them a suitably serious, even grim, visage, but mostly he was obviously fighting back a grin.

Of course, for a guy who, just six weeks ago, many people were suggesting was on thin ice with his bosses, he had one hell of a lot to smile about.

Finally, Seattle fans have reason to be happy that the Sounders didn't make the MLS Cup final.

Not because they wouldn't have shown well; judging by a lot of the play last night, the lime-and-whatever clad Seattlers could have beaten either of those teams by three with just an average performance.

But if the Sounders had been one of the participants last night, then the packed stadium and citywide excitement, admirable though they might have been, would have been viewed as a city rallying behind the home teams' championship run.

Perhaps still remarkable by American soccer standards, but not particularly noteworthy otherwise.

However, the fact that Seattle generated that much enthusiasm, passion and general hoo-hah over an MLS game where the home team was NOT involved says much more about what's going on out there.

Sounders fans have taken some guff - some justified, some probably not - over their "ain't we something?" attitude this season, but numbskulls like Jose Romero aside they have indeed had much to be proud of. Their inaugural season has been nothing short of a smashing success.

In a larger sense though, the scene yesterday was something that all MLS fans can take a great deal of satisfaction from. The Sounders phenomenon didn't occur in a vacuum or spring full-grown out of thin air but rather was the next step in a process that's been going on for well over a decade.

So while we're all congratulating Seattle - rightly so - for a job well done, it's OK to go ahead and pour one for yourselves as well. We're on the right track,

More please.