The minions gathered around the massive table. Their faces were masked in shadows as dark as the plans they devised. They sat in silence as they awaited their leader, silence as still as the grave. "Okay, let's get this - the hell? Can we get some lights on in here?"
"Oh - sorry, sir, I thought you had a PowerPoint presentation for us." Fluorescent lights flickered on in the corporate conference room.
"Gentlemen!" said the leader. The room only contained white men over fifty years of age, in order to underscore the evilness of the enterprise. "Today, I am pleased to announce that the final stage of one of my most cherished evil schemes is near fruition. I speak of - Major League Soccer!"
A collective groan filled the room. Not this again.
"Quiet! I'm serious, this cherished evil plan is in its final stage! Pay attention, Jenkins!" (There is always a Jenkins.) The leader strode around the room as he spoke.
"Every year, my attempts at subtle manipulation have come undone. For some reason, it has been unusually difficult to establish my dynasty team. Yes, they have won championships in the past - but it has been too long! I have put too much money into this team. And what do I have to show for it? For long years, nothing! Injuries, bad luck, bad players - oh, and overpriced big named foreigners who come here injured, out of shape, unmotivated. As if my money was not sufficient motivation!
"But now, gentlemen, now we are within sight of final victory. We have the team. We have the audience. We have the storyline. It has taken millions of dollars and millions of man-hours, but Anschutz Entertainment Group will finally bring a championship back to its flagship franchise - the Houston Dynamo!"
The sound of a record needle scratching across vinyl symbolized the abrupt change in tone. Fortunately, no one under the age of fifty was present, so the trope was not lost on anyone.
"But, Mr. Anschutz...what about the Galaxy?
"Hey! My picture-disc version of Paul's Boutique!"
"Do what with the who now?"
"The LA Galaxy, sir. David Beckham. Landon Donovan. Bruce Arena. Isn't that the team you want to win?"
"What? How would I make a movie out of that? It's no fun if Goliath wins! America wants the underdog! Picture it, gentlemen. A team from a blue-collar city in a red-state, against rich and powerful bullies!"
"Sir, aren't we rich and powerful bullies?"
"Yes, but we're self-aware enough to know we're not the heroes. And, thanks to my long-range quadricep blaster ray, the Dynamo will be without their best player and MVP candidate! Making it all that more inspiring when my beloved Dynamo win another MLS Cup!"
"But the game is in Los Angeles."
"Carson, damn you! I will not have that fine community slighted by your geographical laziness!"
"Sir, won't the crowd be disappointed?"
"I plan for a Rocky IV ending. The Moscow crowd will cheer for the hero in the end."
"Wait, we're the bad guys, but we're rigging it so the good guys win?"
"The stars align, Jenkins! The stars align! Bwa ha ha ha ha!"
ANYWAY. Later this week I want to do some sort of post-mortems on Philly, City, Lake and Waterfall. Well, actually, I can do the Rapids right now - as we know, they had to choose between Paul Bravo and Gary Smith, and went with Bravo. Given that so much of the Rapids' recent success was based on the blueprint of building around seasoned MLS veterans who don't need much hand-holding about how the league works, it's possible that Bravo might have been a more important factor than Smith.
Possible, but unlikely. Plan A, according to rumor, is to get into a bidding war with the Timbers over John Spencer. Who has done a fine job in Portland, and has not won a championship.
It's tempting to belittle the importance of coaching. Steve Sampson and Thomas Rongen have won doubles in MLS. If the team is built well enough, just hand them their shirts and point them at the field, right?
The Rapids did not win their championship in a particularly beautiful style, but they did win a championship. Motivating players to perform well when it matters is far from the least important of a coach's duties, and Smith proved he could do that. The Rapids chose a technical director, although a club icon, over their coach. That's a high-risk decision to say the least, and the Western Conference is a very tough neighborhood. Eighth place or worse beckons, if Jeff Plush bungles his next big decision.
For the sake of Colorado fans, they'd better hope Smith is living in a fantasy world:
Smith said that the problem extended to general manager Jeff Plush and, rather bizarrely, chief marketing officer Tim Hinchey, with all three having an increased role in the construction of the roster.
"Paul, Jeff, Tim, they were involved in the player decisions, and they were the source of a lot of conflict," Smith said via telephone. "Ninety percent of the decisions were made after heavy arguments. These guys feel they are in a position of power to do that.
"When I took the job, I was told I would have the final say. But over time that required more confrontation, more energy, and I was sick and tired of the backbiting."
Paul is Paul Bravo, Jeff is Jeff Plush, and Tim is Tim Hinchey, the Raps' chief marketing officer. Carlisle called the idea that marketing would drive player personnel decisions "bizarre," but it's hardly unprecedented. Ask a Home Depot Center tenant how quickly that line of thinking can go bad.
In fact, if ANY of this is true, then the Rapids' MLS Cup wasn't just an upset, it was miraculous. And if any of this is true, the Rapids glory days have almost certainly come to a screeching halt.