EDIT - Yikes on the first version of the title. (For those of you who missed it, I said nice things about Hitler. Whoops! Also my grammar sucked, but it was primarily the Hitler thing.) I should have waited until this week to start complaining about the two-legged first round, and to GIS Animal Farm images. And I should have focused more on the mess in the Eastern Conference.
Oh, well, at least the picture is pretty easy to understand. Four teams are still alive for the Eastern Conference title. The first three spots in the East, for all practical purposes, have no benefit or punishment (until the conference final, but I gots no beef with how MLS does its conference finals). The fourth place team has an all-or-nothing showdown with - well, right now it's tough to tell, but it could easily against the defending champs in their house. The third place team has a home-and-home with the second place team. If the third place team had a one-shot on the road against the second place team - well, then, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Columbus and Houston would be only slightly less panicky about finishing third than fourth.
Reasonable Minds May Differ about whether the wild card is a good idea. I don't think it's anywhere near as complicated as people are pretending it is, and it's not anywhere near as enervating as the days when eight out of ten made it to the playoffs. But the one-off aspect of it works beautifully. There's the tangible regular-season bonus. With home field advantage such a ridiculous factor in MLS these days - Toronto FC is above .500 at home, for God's sake - the wild card round should be an instant success.
...unless road teams simply bunker and play for the penalty kick shootout, something that has roughly 1,000% chance of happening. However, that's a segue into the argument to ban the shootout in favor of unlimited overtime, which is an argument I feel much less optimistic about.
But if it's an argument you're after, let's talk MVP.
There's a certain ineffable quality I look for in a Most Valuable Player. I suppose you'd call it MVPness. And there's much more to MVPness than simply taking out a ruler and comparing stats side by side. What makes a player's MVPness stand out is....
....okay, fine. I for one think there's no such thing as "too many wang jokes," but since it's the exact same one I beat into the ground during the Gold Cup, I'll stop. You're just lucky Eddie Johnson isn't a candidate this year, though.
Anyway, those of you unfortunate enough to sit through the Superduperclasico last night probably caught the discussion at halftime between Adrian Healey, Alexi Lalas, and that coprocephalic John Harkes about who their MLS MVP candidates were. As Alexi has said elsewhere (provided you can even read it - I'm in no good position to criticize another website's presentation, and maybe I should just be thankful that an English tabloid cares about our league at all, but that thing's as legible as a ransom note), he's picking Brek Shea, partly but not entirely on the grounds that penalty kicks are easy. (Also known as the "Screw you, Landon Donovan" codicil.)
Harkes, whose insights are usually a breath of fresh methane, may have actually been onto something when he picked Osvaldo Alonso. Usually the scoring champ is an MVP candidate ex officio, but contrary to Alexi Lalas, I think this of all seasons is when we should consider someone besides an offensive player. (Unless you agree with Sounder at Heart that Alonso isn't a defensive midfielder anymore.)
But instead of Alonso, I'd pick the best defensive player on the best defensive team, and that's Omar Gonzalez.
The Galaxy, unfortunately, seem to be set on pushing David Beckham forward for MVP. I'm not going to sit here and say Beckham hasn't had a good season, but the Galaxy would have been a lot more screwed without Gonzalez than without Beckham.
Yes, I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the Galaxy were a product of coaching. Someone has to carry out that coaching, don't they? If I were to say the top three players in the whole league this year were Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant, and Juninho, I'd have a case. I'd be a despicable homer, sure, but I'd have a case. (A case which I'd probably be better off drinking. But all the beer I have, I owe to Matrim55.)
If DC United squeaks into the playoffs, it will probably be Dwayne De Rosario. Usually "wow, without him they might not have finished in tenth freaking place" is not a persuasive argument. But the circumstances here are a little different - when De Rosario left New York, they were in first place, and DC was spinning its wheels. The Red Bulls have sunk since then, and DC was pretty hot for a few weeks there.
Besides, De Rosario is owed an MVP for 2005. And if he gets three assists in his last two games, that will put him at 15/15 for the year. Jason Kreis was MVP by acclamation the year he posted those numbers.
Unfortunately, it seems that Chris Pontius, and not De Rosario, was the truly crucial player for DC this year - judging by the form United's been in since he's been out.
A goalkeeper has won this award before - Meola in 2000. If the six keeper candidates putting up insane numbers had done so in different seasons, one of them might have gotten support. But even if you discount Saunders and Ricketts as beneficiaries of the Galaxy machine and/or didn't play enough games, you've still got to choose between Keller, Hartman, Rimando, and Mondragon. This is part of what I mean when I say we're in a defensive era, and the MVP should reflect that.
Sadly, the real answer is "Wait until after MLS Cup." Apparently the MLS Awards Dinner is a Thing which Cannot Be Done Without, so the league continually dooms itself into handing MVP trophies to players who led their team to the coveted Nothing.
Speaking of MVPs, who is your US National Team MVP this year? I got an email asking for my opinion. Usually the last thing I'd want is someone else's input, but this year seems particularly difficult. Probably because the team was usually kind of lousy.
Here's the criteria, if you're interested:
* The Fútbol de Primera Player of the Year Award recognizes the best player on the U.S. National Team who has played in at least 3 games during the calendar year....
* Each eligible player must have played in a minimum of three (3) games with the U.S. National Team during 2010. * A first place vote equals 3 points, a second place vote is worth 2 points and a third place vote counts as 1 point. At the close of voting, all of the points are tallied and the winner is the player who receives the most overall points.
Tim Howard is probably the best choice... except for that egg he laid in the Gold Cup Final. Yes, I realize Jonathan Bornstein drinks the blood of the innocent. Howard was still brutally subpar. I'm tempted to go with Steve Cherundolo, along those lines. Clearly he was the most important player on the team, because as soon as he left the field, we completely fell apart.
But, if there were any really, truly, standout candidates this year, Bob Bradley would still be the coach. Fortunately, I've given it a lot of thought, I've read the rules carefully, and I think I have very solid ballot that truly represents the best of US Soccer this year. Highlight to reveal:
1. Abby Wambach 2. Hope Solo 3. Megan Rapinoe
(Hey, it didn't say a damn thing about the player having to be a man.)