So now every American soccer site is bordered in black, because two of the league's more unpopular teams will compete for MLS Cup.
It would be unfair to compare the attendances of FC Dallas and the Rapids with attendances of your basic run-of-the-mill 1970's NASL team - for two reasons, really. First, because the MLS teams pretty much destroy their NASL predecessors, both in attendance and longevity. Really the only team that competes with either MLS team, at least as far as endurance was, well, the Dallas Tornado. Having the Dallas market represented in the championship is just fine.
The other reason it's unfair is that both Dallas and Colorado have their own stadiums. The SSS isn't the end-all, be-all of successful teams, but it's so far beyond what any NASL team was able to accomplish that we seem to have trouble comprehending the accomplishment. There are only a couple of places where the old NASL could compare - quality of play, MAYBE, but we can have that argument later - and hype. In one market. And if this had been a Galaxy-Red Bulls final, like we were promised, then even that record would be in serious jeopardy.
So we have two unglamorous teams who will compete for the championship based on results achieved on the field. This is the best thing that could have happened for the league.
The way this little league is going to build isn't through fluff pieces about whichever international is slumming in Carson or Harrison. That's going to get some drive-by attention, which is nice. It may even get some TV ratings. But it won't build real, solid franchises. The sort that the NASL was largely unfettered by.
Yeah, you don't care about Dallas and Colorado. Unless you live in their catchment area, that's not their problem. They need to draw more fans, everyone agrees. One way to do that is to put a good product on the field, which Dallas at least has done.
And while the Rapids aren't as glamorous, they've been consistent in the type of tough-guy, detestable team they've been trying to build over the years, something with a blue collar image to make their fans feel mighty by proxy. I have absolutely no problem with that, and neither should you - I can think of at least three other teams that overtly advertise themselves in similar ways.
So it won't get great ratings in Los Angeles or Harrison. It'll get pretty darn good ratings in Frisco and Commerce City. And one of those markets will have a fantastic little footnote to add to the season ticket holder offers. The fact that MLS Cup is being contested among two of the longest-suffering fan bases (counting NASL, and not counting APSL) is a feature, not a bug.
Having Colorado and Dallas in the final is an unmixed blessing, because there's nothing that gives hope to every fan than a new champion. Fans of bad teams are given hope. Fans of more arrogant teams harp on their front offices, coaches and players to produce better teams so lesser mortals don't take their Cups.
("But Dan, couldn't you say that San Jose needed this even more than Dallas or the Rapids, since they don't even have their own stadium, and their fan base was poisoned by having a winning team not only move, but actively disown their old home?")
Yup. Dallas and Colorado, best possible outcome of the playoffs.
What? You wanted to see better teams? Didn't Dallas kinda prove they were better? And Colorado - well, was it their fault that they were in a softer bracket? You'd rather have the teams that weren't even as good as the Rapids?
Yeah, if the playoff format didn't give lower seeds home games, the Rapids probably wouldn't have advanced, and the FC might not have gotten by Salt Lake. That's not the fault of Colorado and Dallas. The Royals, Galaxy, Red Bulls, Quakes, Sounders and Crew had the exact same opportunities that Colorado and Dallas had. Maybe the Crew can moan about their penalty kick loss, but no one told them to tie with the Rapids in the aggregate (or blow a massive lead in the East by being perhaps the worst team in the league after the All-Star Game).
Seriously. Would you rather have glamorous teams, or good teams, in your final? If David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry can't win on the field, then how do you justify wanting to see them play for the title? They had their chances, and they blew it.
Baseball built its fortunes around a Yankees dynasty. The Yankees started to stink in the 1960's, and baseball nearly collapsed. It wasn't Steinbrenner that brought baseball back, it was putting teams in markets that would otherwise maybe watch the Yankees in passing once in a while, but didn't care about the rest of the league. Places like, to pick a couple of examples entirely at random, Dallas and Denver.
MLS did that as much as it could with the Galaxy and the Red Bulls, but it's "stuck" with Dallas and Colorado. And we're "stuck" watching better, stronger, smarter teams play for the championship. Poor, poor pitiful us.
If you want a popularity contest, watch Dancing With The Stars. Me, I'm gonna watch MLS Cup.
(Of course, I'm disowning all this small-market underdog crap if Chivas USA ever get near the Final.)