Love Jeff Cunningham

Writers inCanada, as well as THIS ONE from a slightly warmer clime, have been saying that the Torontonian fans who will attend todays' MLS Cup match intend to warmly welcome back Colorado defender Marvel Wynne but also plan on bestowing hate and bitterness on Dallas forward Jeff Cunningham.

I hope this isn't really the case, but the BMO faithful have turned displaying inappropriate anger into an art form, so I suppose there's not much hope that they'll go against form in this case.

It's entirely true that Jeffro made a very poor showing while wearing the Red, scoring only six times in thirty two games, which is well below his career average and certainly way short of the showing he made after leaving for Dallas, where he won the league scoring title.

In any case, Toronto fans are apparently thinking of some other guy since his Official League "Stats" page HAS NO RECORD OF HIM HAVING PLAYED THERE. Imagine my surprise.

Anyway, here's the thing:

First of all, he can hardly be blamed for the fact that there was a certifiable lunatic, and an incompetent one at that, running the team at the time. A guy who was willing to toss him under the bus - after Jeff missed a sitter Carver pointedly mocked him in the post-game presser - the way he tried to toss everyone else under it, including the league itself, on his way out the door with MLSE's footprint stamped squarely on his ass.

Carver was a loser, and Cunningham is one hell of a long ways from the only quality player who underperformed while he was in charge. Indeed, he was sacked precisely because the team stunk up the joint.

So taking it out on Cunningham is hardly justified. Obviously, when a hitter isn't hitting, that goose egg in the "G" column on the stat sheet becomes a lightning rod for the fans' frustrations. That goes with the territory; forwards often get way too much credit and adulation when they score and way too much of the blame when they don't.

But at the same time it wasn't him who was in the TFC back line, bending over and dropping his pants for every Tom, Dick and Landon who came tooling into the area with the ball at his feet.

A little understanding is in order.

First of all, Jeff Cunningham is, despite what his passport says now, psychologically Jamaican. If you can't have a good time and laugh while you're in the same room with him you ought to just go shoot yourself in the head because the guy is hysterically funny.

(I wish I could find the interview piece Sirk did with him a couple of years ago. There was very little room for Sirks' trademark humorous treatment; all he did was transcribe and somehow keep from hurting himself laughing.)

But it's been a tough road for Jeffro, and no one would deny that he brought a lot of the problems on himself.

He came into the league with Columbus way back in 1998, joining a team whose offense featured Brian McBride, Stern John, Dante Washington and Brian West.

Tom Fitzgerald (RIP) would wait until the defenders were good and beat up by the shear physical pounding they got from Washington and McBride and the wear and tear of chasing John and West around the pitch, (BTW: John is currently living in Columbus rehabbing an injury and will almost certainly be on the roster come opening day 2011) and then send in this lunatic on wheels, a guy with all the speed in the world and literally no fear at all.

That established the pattern with Cunningham and it's been both his blessing and his bane ever since.

Around the same time Jamaica started calling - he was born in Montego Bay, mon - inviting him in to their national side where he almost certainly would have been a starter. But he desperately wanted to play for the US, and Bruce Arena apparently assured him there was a spot for him.

So he turned Jamaica down and applied for citizenship, which was granted in 2001. Unfortunately Arena had pretty much the same idea everybody else did - use him as a sub - and he wasn't happy about it. There's a great photo somewhere that shows the team circling Crew Stadium after beating Mexico, wrapped up in American flags with ear-to-ear smiles. In the middle of the group is Jeff, looking like his dog just died. He had played three minutes.

As for his MLS career, in a league where nobody can find a decent forward, here's a guy who broke the league rookie scoring record with one team, won the Golden boot with a second team and won it again three years later with a third.

He now owns the MLS career scoring record, and yet he's been traded five times. How does that happen?

The answer is that sooner or later every coach realizes that Cunningham is far more effective coming off the bench than he is starting. Cunningham pouts about it, the coach gets frustrated and eventually they part ways.

But it's not that Jeff is a bad guy; he's the happiest man in the world. It's just that he figures that scoring goals makes you a starter. Isn't that the deal?

Like a lot of people, you're probably wondering how in God's Earth perennial loser Dallas ended up playing in MLS Cup. Everybody thought the same thing last year with Salt Lake.

And one of the big reasons is the old gray haired guy who usually sits there calmly as if he's watching his grandchildren spend the day frolicking on the beach. Peter Nowak he's not.

Hyndman has done some truly amazing things with this team.

And possibly the most amazing of all is that he is the first guy who's been able to convince Jeff Cunningham that coming off the bench - when the situation requires it - is a good thing that he should be happy about.

For a player who has spent the last 13 years fighting tooth and nail against that very idea, it's more than amazing; it's a miracle.

All in all, it's been a long, strange trip for Cunningham, a career which is culminating in the biggest game of his life today.

Whatever else you may think about the guy, he's earned the right to enjoy the day.

If you can't bring yourself to applaud the man, then I think it's you who have a problem, not him.