"Navel-gazing ripples" was what Black and Red United called the aftermath of Chris Klein firing up a Galaxy pep rally crowd on Monday, and he/she/they/it are right. This is where people like Colin Jose and Roger Allaway get to take more deserved bows. Even ten years ago or so, the Fall River Marksmen and Bethlehem Steel would have been obscure afterthoughts. I've compared their research and recovery missions to the rediscovery of Atlantis, as far as American soccer history is concerned - except people had heard of Atlantis.
I usually like to be smarmy and count the Boston Oneidas, but there are a number of problems with that. They weren't playing association football, and their level of competition was literally non-existent.
And the other problem with Oneida, Bethlehem and Fall River is whether you count legacy. Josie Becker did a fine job in narrowing down the candidates, but finishes with this:
The Fall River Marksmen and their soccer specific Mark's Stadium laid the seeds that the Cosmos, D.C. and the Galaxy were eventually able to germinate.
Nope. Fall River and Bethlehem's legacies were completely forgotten. We bring them up because they should and deserve to be remembered, not because anyone did remember them. Might as well say King Priam helped build the Hagia Sophia.
And the Oneidas were so wildly successful, the Boston game became a worldwide sensation which today has millions of no, seriously, you must be bigger than professional dodgeball to be in this conversation.
So why do I like to put Fall River and Bethlehem 1-2, or 2-1, when it comes to best American teams ever? Because (1) holy crap, just go back and look at their accomplishments. Those teams were dripping with future Hall of Famers. And (2) they were exact contemporaries. Like DC United and LA, not only were they beating other top quality teams, but they had each other to contend with - in multiple competitions. Not only that, but they were challenged in Open Cups by seriously good St. Louis sides, who were first division in all but name, and had the track records to prove it.
If we're patient, we will find out which team was better between 90's DC United and...well, you know what, maybe we won't need to. There's no subset of time aside from entire history of the league where the Galaxy were more successful than DC United, let alone when you limit it to four or five year spans. (Unless you think the Galaxy are in mid-dynasty, in which case, rock on, fellow homer.)
In any case, Bruce Arena could tell you with fairness and confidence what the best single-season MLS team was, or whether he thinks recent Galaxy could beat 90's DC, of course, and after he retires I look forward to hearing his opinion.
(What, everyone is sick to death of hearing me say that under current rules, Captain Dan Calichman would have played in MLS Cup 96, shut out DC's good-but-not-great 1996 team, and altered history in unknowable ways? I should know better than to open the "deserving champions" can of worms with 2005 and 2012 on our curriculum vitae? I can't hear you, la la la la la)
I tend to underrate the Cosmos for ticky-tack reasons, I admit it. The 35 yard offside line was a significant rule change, they played on turf, their competition outside Florida and Chicago ranged from unsteady to pure creamery garbage, they could be and were outcoached in big games, and their pre-Pele and post-Beckenbauer teams would have been outplayed and outdrawn by the Colorado Rapids.
Like I said - ticky-tack. They had Pele and Beckenbauer, and on top of that Carlos Alberto, Neeskens, Chinaglia and Bogicevic, and they even threw in a couple of American stars; thank you, please drive through. Unlike Fall River and Bethlehem, though, their superstars' best years were mostly played elsewhere.
The Cosmos have the worst longevity, but the best legacy - MLS really was the result of the NASL, and not simply because they had NASL management as bad examples.
However...let's not discount longevity. DC United and Los Angeles are not just successful, they've outlasted the Cosmos and Marksmen by far. Given a stadium for DC United, and barring disaster for the Galaxy, they will both also outlast Bethlehem Steel. It's a matter of when, not if, raw numbers put the MLS teams above the others. More trophies, more fans, more seasons, more wins, more star players - you name it. These are the golden days - either that, or your golden days are to come. If you're looking for a team better than DC or LA, look forward.
But we'll still talk about this topic, because it's fun. I'll still say Galaxy, Washingtonians will still say United, others will say others. Even though by any rational metric of how to measure the best, most successful, most influential, and most dominant dynastic team in American soccer history - well, there's only one answer.