MLS Cup - before the calm

As he had feared, his orders had been forgotten and everyone had brought the potato salad. - "Bored of the Rings"

From now on, I will refer to Jameson's whiskey as "Riot Squad potato salad."

It was an exhilarating and exhausting end to an exhilarating and exhausting season.  My initial reaction was relief - the expectations for the Galaxy kept getting higher and higher, and I think everyone realized that only MLS Cup would validate the season, no matter what else happened.  It was a long day at the end of a long season, and even though it was successful, at the end the family and I went home and pretty much collapsed.  We left it all at the stadium.  I'm a wreck today, but it was all worth it.

There is the outside possibility that a professional player or coach might have been reading that last paragraph, and is now asking, "Is this person truly trying to compare the efforts of people possessing talent and commitment belonging to 1% of 1% of 1% of the population, and the hours - hell, years - that it takes to turn that into a championship team, to getting drunk and yelling?"

Yes.  I am a fan.  Look upon my works, and despair.

We'll have some time to talk about the actual game - in other words, I'd like to see the replay before yammering about it in detail.  Hell, you know more about the goals than I do, since I was off in the far corner going "yay."  But I think I can give you some of the weekend's atmosphere.

Most of you are familiar with Du Nord, the best soccer blog in America.   Those of you who aren't familiar with it, well, get familiar with it.  Bruce is one of the great American soccer travellers, but it isn't just him up there.  The Twin Cities fans - I still think of them as Thunder fans - show up for national team qualifiers in considerable strength, but they have also shown up for MLS Cups from way back.  Despite, as you will have astutely noted, having very little in the way to care about, rivalry-wise.  These are guys who freaking love the game.  If I ever move to Minnesota, I hope they'll take me.  I promised them I'd wear a Minnesota Kicks shirt until I earned my Nessie gear.

Anyway, you can still catch them at qualifiers, which is something I recommend.  But thanks to competition committee changes, it's going to be hard to find them at MLS Cups.

Actually, let me be among the...well, at this point, nearly the last to congratulate the Angel City Brigade on a great job with the Supporters Summit.  This was the first meeting with the commissioner where no one asked about promotion and relegation.  This made it the all-time greatest and most intelligent Supporters Summit in the history of ever.

So pardon me if I'm a tad harsh.  But man, you all - and many of the our fellow posters were with them in spirit, so in the words of Driveshaft, you all everybody - need to drop the whining about the unbalanced schedule post-haste tout suite.  The people who own the teams don't want a balanced schedule.  The teams with insane travel distances don't want a balanced schedule.

And the idea that fans want a balanced schedule is pretty specious.  I've heard a lot about the idea that more frequent rivalry games dilute the rivalry, and am going to just cheerfully file that under "argument from assertion" right under my Rangers and Celtic scarves.

The main problem is what you mean by fan.  You and I are hardcore fans, and while you and I are wonderful and charming, the average fan makes decisions on whether to attend games based on far different criteria than we do.  Way, way up on the list is how interesting the opponent is.  Way, way down on the list is how fair and balanced the schedule is.  Salt Lake fans care about when Colorado comes to town.  New England, not so much.  Seattle and Portland are excited to see the Vancouver Whitecaps.  DC United, not so much.

It's a shame that diehard fans aren't open to the idea that their players shouldn't travel more than necessary, and that excessive travel diminishes the quality of the team's performance.  But it's silly for diehard fans not to realize that these guys are running a business.  If you want your team to waste plane fuel to play worse games in front of smaller crowds, then save your nickels and buy a team.

I am not slamming the Summiteers - fellow blogger Mike Gray wanted to give credit to the Angel City Brigadier who asked Don Garber what can be done when owners don't want to spend the money necessary to compete.  Garber tried to deny that there were such owners, causing nosebleeds and earaches among Revolution fans states away.

But on the other hand, there was the awkward moment when a fan snarled "Making money!" while MLS EVP Nelson Rodriguez was explaining the rationale behind...you know what, it doesn't even matter, it literally doesn't.  Rodriguez simply said "Yes," paused for a moment as if daring the fan to contradict him, and then finished his sentence.

If we were fans of, say, WorldVision or Doctors Without Borders, and we had a supporters summit to grill those executives - and those guys should have fans, shouldn't they? - then "making money" would be a controversial answer.  Soccer's been a business since before any of our fathers were born, can we please act like it once in a while?  You know what MLS stands for, right?

That's right.

The reason I can tell you all this, fellow fans, is that Nelson Rodriguez did the exact same thing to me.  My annoying hobbyhorse issue was a single game per round playoff, like the NFL does.  As you know, the league did decide to make the playoffs consistent for - actually, no, they didn't.  The first round and the final are one-offs, and the middle two rounds are home-and-home.  It's even sillier now.

ANYWAY, I asked Mr. Rodriguez what the thinking was behind going home-and-home for the conference finals, and also complimented MLS SVP Todd Durbin on the MLS Cup scarf he had.  Apparently I had forlorn puppy dog eyes, because Mr. Durbin took pity on me like I was Bob Cratchit on Christmas Day, and said scarf is mine!  Yay!

But the conference finals are now home and home!  Boo!

Anyway, Mr. Rodriguez started out his answer, "we asked fans, and they wanted to be able to see a home game" and right there I knew I was dead.  That's why I'm saying "mister."  Turns out there's a reason they're in nice suits in a comfortable suite, and I'm standing out in the rain like a dumbass wearing their secondhand scarves.

They had the data, and they made a decision.  So either enough people show up to lower-seed home games to make them worthwhile, or owners are completely blind as to their best interests.  Yes, of course the league took input from fans, and players, and coaches, and owners.  And the odds that home and home was a money-losing system for the majority of those people was virtually nil.

"But home and home devalues teams that finish higher in the standings," I briefly thought about saying, until I remembered the part about the higher seed hosting MLS Cup itself.  That's pretty good incentive to finish second instead of third, if I'm honest with myself.

"But home and home gives lower seeds more of a chance of an upset," I also briefly thought about saying.

Wanna know how that conversation would not have gone?

"Golly, random fat person, that never occurred to us.  Let's reconvene the committee in light of this new information.  Thank God you were here to show us the way."

Let's assume for a minute that MLS doesn't make decisions simply to piss you and me off.  That's probably an added bonus, but let's pretend they won't piss us off if it costs them money.  If they're making decisions like, say, unbalancing the schedule, or adding a playoff game, it's because they think it will be profitable.  I don't agree with it, but people whose job was to analyze this stuff dispassionately came to a different conclusion.

Fans apparently like upsets, who knew?  I don't know if any of you followed along with your fellow posters, but if you didn't, let me gently tell you something surprising.  Not everyone was hoping Los Angeles would win.

I know, right?  It's completely unfathomable.  The Galaxy had the better record, after all.  The right, just, and pure result was obviously a Galaxy victory.  But yet, and I can barely type out the words, some fans were hoping LA would lose.  And not just Dynamo fans!  That's understandable, even if they were cheering for their shallow self-interest at the cost of MLS and American soccer.  But allegedly neutral fans were openly saying they hoped the Galaxy would lose!

And why?  Because we destroyed Alderaan?  We've told you over and over, Dantooine was too remote to be an effective demonstration.

So, you still don't think money should play a role in these decisions.  Okay.  Every one of you out there who thinks MLS is invalid without a balanced schedule?  Send me five bucks.  Then I'll agree with you.

"Hey, why should I give away my money, just because you don't agree with me?"  EXACTLY.

I thought I was rationally suggesting a system I thought would be best.  It turned out I was being dogmatic, doctrinaire, and closed-minded.  Truly, we become what we hate.  That's why George H.W. Bush is now a six foot stalk of broccoli.

Those were my thoughts as I trudged back in the rain to the Riot Squad tailgate.  If only something would happen later in the evening that will cheer me up, I thought....