MLS Cup - G's up, Hou's down

It's pretty contemptible when writers try to make a big deal about the things they got right - after all, that just means they usually get things wrong, and they're trying to distract you from their overall incompetence. Anyway, I picked a heavy favorite, who this year won something like 1/3 of their games by a score of 1-0, and I picked a 2-1 scoreline.  The hell was I thinking.

I wish I was the guy who wrote this, way back in March:

Remember when they flashed that graphic up – it was probably against New York – that said without Beckham, the Galaxy were a pube short of invincible, but with him they were piss-bucket average? And Rob Stone said something like “Wow, despite the numbers and the evidence of our senses, it’s so difficult to believe the Galaxy are worse with Beckham!” And yet, reality.

But this is his contract year, and clinical narcissists tend to play at their peak during contract years. It’s not a coincidence that Real Madrid won nothing throughout Beckham’s stay there…until his final year.

When, not coincidentally, his England career was at death’s door. Like it is now. I have every confidence that David Beckham will, for a change, try his very best.

And if it looks like he’s not at MLS level – I have every confidence that he will play up another injury until the transfer window opens, making room for one of the many Galaxy players who intend to contribute.

The Galaxy are finally in a good position when it comes to Beckham. Either he finally cracks the league’s top two hundred players – which is all Los Angeles really needs from him at this point – or he takes another powder, and LA tears through the league again.

....

Anyway. Western Conference and Shield for the Galaxy, and let’s have them beat Colorado in MLS Cup.

Wow.  Only one word of that was wrong.  Other than that, perfection.  Whoever wrote that must be really smart and pretty and popular and everyone must like him.  I think we should all go to that guy's house, and spend the afternoon complimenting him on how wonderful he is.  Who's with me?

Anyway, real journalists don't usually wait a week before talking about a game, but before we talk about what this game was and what this wasn't, we might as well see what actually happened.  Spoiler alert: Galaxy win.  Other spoiler alert:  Brad Davis' after-the-fact MVP campaign got a HUGE boost.  Cheap and controversial blogger attempt at hype spoiler alert: Adam Cristman might have been the key player of the game.

The pregame analysis, despite its heavy emphasis on the high-salaried players, hit a couple of targets right in the bullseye.  Alexi Lalas picked Omar Gonzalez as his key player, and Omar was flawless.  Alejandro Moreno picked his former teammate Brian Ching - although at this point, you can't throw a brick without hitting a former teammate of Moreno.  And sure enough, Ching's complete and total absence from the game proved crucial.  Best of all was Taylor Twellman, who pinpointed Cory Ashe and Jermaine Taylor stepping in for Brad Davis.  Twellman did allow for the possibility that Sean Franklin would run roughshod over them, which is what exactly happened.

And, of course, Twellman's later confession/rallying cry of "I hate both these teams!" galvanized a nation of fans, and probably won him John Harkes' job.  Unless Twellman won it a couple of weeks before after Harkes "shimmy shimmy cocoa puffs" call.

It's probably either way too soon or way too late to rehabilitate Cristman's reputation, but he was honestly more unlucky than incompetent.  Cristman had to work pretty hard to even get to the allegedly unmissable header in the 12th minute.  The second allegedly unmissable header Cristman missed featured a serious shove in the back courtesy of Hainault - it should have been a penalty kick.  And the third allegedly easy chance...okay, Cristman probably should have gotten a better shot off.

However, several players had easier service and much worse misses.  It was Cristman who took the abuse.  He was also extremely unlucky to have not converted chances from David Beckham, whose control over the game's narrative was fearsome indeed.  Harkes and Darke effusively called Beckham the best player on the field, as if Omar Gonzalez skipped the game or something.  Not to get too emotional about this, but without Beckham, Keane and Donovan eventually find a way through.  Without Gonzalez, Houston gets its third star.

If Houston fans are looking for reasons to be cheered up, and are willing to settle for cold comfort from a Galaxy fan blogger, send them over here and I'll set them up.  Houston needed to play an absolutely flawless game in order to win, and - spoiler alert - they didn't.  But they played better than I realized at the time - Cristman or no Cristman, possession disadvantage or no, the Galaxy managed zero shots on goal in the first half.  I wasn't a math major, but I'm pretty sure that's as few as you can have.

I had planned to derisively award Cristman the game-changer award for having injured Geoff Cameron late in the first half...but after seeing the replay, it simply looked like horrible bad luck.  And Cameron was able to keep up with Robbie Keane in the second half, which was more than the rest of the Dynamo defense could say.

But Cameron wasn't at 100% in the second half, and Houston fans are certainly entitled to play the what-if game.  Kansas City notwithstanding, the Dynamo were dead without Brad Davis.  Without Davis, and with Cameron playing through pain, Houston was deader than dead.  As it was, Ashe and Taylor had no chance against Franklin, Cruz made no headway against Dunivant, and Omar and the still-underrated-but-less-so-now-than-last-week A.J. DeLaGarza had complete control of the middle.

Don't get me wrong, "not the worst beating in MLS Cup history" is faint praise, and it's meant to be.  But if Dynamo fans want to say "It would have been different if Brad Davis had been available," I will nod politely and say "Yes, that is a perfectly reasonable position to take."

The Dynamo did not pull off the upset - it would have been the biggest in MLS Cup history - but they acquitted themselves fine.  Like the New York Red Bulls did in 2008.  Dynamo fans might not want to follow up what happened to New York the next season (although total coaching failure on that scale seems unlikely, short of Dominic Kinnear going in for a haircut and coming out like Randle McMurphy).

One of my cherished beliefs - that 0-0 is a dangerous scoreline if you're the better team but nevertheless failed to score - took a beating Sunday.  Lalas correctly said that the Dynamo went into halftime a "wounded animal" - Houston started the second half as badly as they ended the first.  Darke and Harkes shared with each other, and the nation, their belief that the longer the Dynamo held out, the better chance they had to win.  Donovan scored a minute later.

To the shock of everyone except those who had watched so much as a minute of Galaxy soccer this year, LA went into lockdown immediately afterward.  At that point, Houston was officially relying on a miracle to tie, two miracles to win.

Despite the terrible, terrible cold that Beckham was suffering, he still had the speed and energy to bring the entire match into laughable disrepute with his pointless open-field tackle of Carlos Costly.  I wish I had the same sense of humor about it that everyone else seems to, but any other player would have been hounded out of the league for that stunt.  Picture Beckham doing that against Bayern Munich in 1999, or against Barcelona in 2007.

So, mighty David Beckham played 93 minutes on a torn hamstring, but that wimp Brad Davis skipped the game with a mere torn quadricep.  Which suggests to me that Beckham didn't tear his hamstring.  When responding to Jim Gray - sorry, Rob Stone's question about Beckham, to my ears Landon said "pulled" hamstring, not "torn" hamstring.  The world's soccer press as one, however, has decided to print the legend.  Beckham himself said it was a tear, and Beckham is of course entirely truthful in all matters and respects.

"Why did you immediately embrace Beckham?"  Because he was standing right next to him, Rob, you genius.  This idea that immediately after the game is the perfect time to ask questions about the long-term future should have died the day Roy Williams said he didn't give a this (anagram) about North Carolina.

God, and that line of questioning Stone had about Beckham proving his doubters wrong.  Bad enough that Beckham rose to the bait.  Just once, it would be nice to see someone on the winning side say "People thought we were the best team, and we used that to build our confidence.  After all, you're not the favorite if people don't think you're good.  Our win today just shows that anything is possible, given superior talent and resources.  Everyone believed in us, and we proved them right."

However, as long as we must say nice things about David Beckham, that free kick in injury time would have been a goal of absolute beauty.  Tally Hall is not getting nearly enough credit for saving it, probably because it had nothing to do with the scoreline.  And because with Beckham around, it's pretty hard for anyone to get on the stage.

Afterwards, there was much talk about how wonderful it was that the Supporters Shield winners - or, "the best team in the league," as it's more often put - finally won an MLS Cup.  Because the Columbus Crew's double was a thousand years ago, accomplished somewhere besides that exact stadium, apparently.

Greatest MLS team of all time?  That's a stupid question.  Really, it is.  Bruce Arena has coached all but, maybe, two of the potential candidates?  And those two, Arena coached against.  At some point, Arena will not be employed by or have to motivate his current team, and then we'll get a straight answer whether it was this year's Galaxy or 1997 DC United.  If anyone wants my opinion, though, I would say that the 2011 Galaxy is not, in fact, the best MLS team of all time.  They would just beat all of the others.  This is an important distinction.

Unnamed Galaxy fan modeling next year's prototype helmet

I don't want to preen about what a great time I had - for one thing, supporters, never assume that just because you've been told your section will be general admission, doesn't mean that will be operative on game day.  But - well, this was the third Cup in front of one of the participants' fans.  Revolution fans went home disappointed nine years ago, but the number for New England season tickets doubles as a suicide prevention hotline.  DC United fans were probably plenty pleased to have seen their very very good team win - but team and league were two years old at that point.

So this Cup final was different, because - well, it was homecoming.  My supporters group isn't nearly the oldest in the league, but still, people from the past ten years or more showed up to be part of the moment.  For those fans - for us - it wasn't about Beckham, or Donovan, or even this year's team.  It was about what we all shared over the past ten years.  A heavy favorite winning a game it was supposed to - well, as a fan of that team, I was relieved more than anything.  The wrathful gloating of MLS fans given the opportunity to pile on a team that failed on such a huge scale would have been more than my tender feelings could have taken.

What was important was where this win was, and who we shared it with - each other.  That was a fantastic experience, and I wasn't prepared for how great it really was.

That's the real bright side of the higher seed hosting from now on.  I don't buy that the new system was because the league was growing stronger - the Super Bowl isn't held at a neutral site because the NFL is so weak.  If it were another year, I'd say it was a cynical attempt to get people to show up for the final.  Which it might very well be.

But I think we can rely on MLS Cup sellouts under the new system.  And what seems like a calculated moneygrab at the corporate level will turn into something different and wonderful by the time it gets to your supporters section.  That is going to be a fantastic thing for you to be a part of, when your team wins in front of you.

And if there's an upset - great.  Look at it from the other point of view.  Let's say you're one of the fans who made a long trip to see an underdog win.  A lot of you already have done that, complete with winning the game in front of fans who hate your team.  (The years that leap to mind are 1998, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.)  That feeling - of a hard core of hardcore braving the odds and making sacrifices for the greater good of the team - is not only not going away, it too will happen every year.

Best MLS Cup ever?  Sure.  For me, not you (in a reversal of Devo's "Beautiful World").  But from now on, every single MLS Cup is going to be the high point in either hundreds of fans' lives, or thousands of fans' lives.  I didn't realize that until I lived through it.  Someday, you will too.

(...well, not Red Bulls fans.  I mean, let's be real, there's no helping some people.)

(Ticky-tack edits made, in case anyone cares, which no one does, I don't think.  So how have you been?)