MLS Playoffs, First Round, Second Leg - The Cattle Raid of Cooley Edition

Like many of you, I was disgusted and embarrassed with how the MLS playoffs were presented to the viewing public.  This is supposed to be "Major League" soccer – the public demands better, and deserves better.  And I'm tired of owners making these lazy, short-sighted decisions based only on the bottom line.  If the owners don't respect the league, no one else is going to.  And if we as fans don't say something, it's just going to keep happening.  The bottom line is, the beautiful game should not be disfigured by having to look at pyramid scheme sponsors like Herbalife and Xango. Oh, that wasn't what you were talking about?

In all seriousness, I have no trouble with those who are complaining that artificial turf be replaced in every soccer stadium – because it should also be replaced in every football stadium.  Baseball, gridiron and soccer may not have much in common, but they all look and play better on natural grass.  Also, the big bright football markings wouldn't have been quite as obnoxiously obtrusive when soccer games have to be played.  I usually don't try to spend other people's money, but maintaining natural grass should be the cost of doing business.  If a soccer game has to be played on the same turf as a gridiron game within twenty-four hours – that to me is still preferable to turf.  The only thing that would change my mind is proof that there are fewer injuries on artificial turf than on torn-up grass.  Otherwise, replace the damn divots and play on.

But I don't see the urgency at all for the Sounders to build their own stadium.  Unless you think their fan base levels out at thirty thousand or so, which doesn't seem to be the case.  If they can almost fill an NFL stadium, then it makes no sense to build what would effectively be yet another NFL stadium – especially in Seattle's case, where the owners of the one have the ears of the owners of the other, to say the very least.   Besides, where would you ideally put a Sounders stadium?  Downtown Seattle.

There are plenty of good reasons for the Krafts to build the Revolution their own stadium, but top of that list is that for the moment, the Revolution fan base cannot fill an NFL facility.  The New England area is a fantastic soccer market, and a new stadium holding thirty thousand or less would be exactly what the team and the fans need.  A Revolution stadium would also, one hopes, be closer to a major metropolitan area than Foxborough.  (I think if many MLS teams could do it over, they would have tried a little harder to be closer to the action than Frisco or Bridgeview, but no sense wailing over it now.)

One nice thing about gridiron lines – it sure makes offside easier to spot.  By the way, how delightful is it when a player pretends not to know how far away ten yards is, when gigantic lines exactly every five yards make it blindingly obvious?  What brazen, shameless knaves we cheer for.

But it sure is fun cheering for them.  If you hate playoffs, well, in the words of a great sportsman, go watch another league.  Here are the midweek deciders, in increasing order of suspense (in my opinon).

Hey, a chance to talk more about the Cascadia rivalry.  What a rare opportunity to talk about something that almost never get any sarcasm.  I know both sets of fans are permanently fired up, and the winner of this series will have a lot to hold over the heads of their less fortunate neighbors…but even that late goal didn't do that much for the Sounders.  Portland was tied for second-best goal differential at home this regular season.  Meanwhile, the Sounders had the best road goal differential in all of MLS…unless you count the Red Bulls, the Revolution, the Crew, the Union, the Dynamo, Sporting, the Rapids, the Galaxy, the Impact, the Whitecaps, the Timbers, Real Salt Lake, the Fire and FC Dallas.  If Sigi plans to have the Sounders peak at the right time, he's running about a month late.

I shudder to contemplate the consequences of failure for Seattle.  Losing to very good teams is one thing – there's not really any shame in losing to the Galaxy or Salt Lake.  Portland is different – not because they're worse, although I think they are, despite the record.  I expected both teams to play badly because of the intensity and pressure of facing a rivalry team in the playoffs – and so far, I've been half right.  Clint Dempsey didn't know he was signing with Skylab.  (I can do 70's references for NASL-named teams, right?)

Unless you believe that Dempsey was this millennium's Carlos Hermosillo, signing with a team at the peak of their powers and bringing everything to a complete standstill.  Dempsey is a lot closer to his peak than Hermosillo was in 1998, though, and you would think that Sigi Schmid was a better manager than Octavio Zambrano.  If Seattle can't pull this one out – and it's not likely – Dempsey is a solid front-runner for Least Valuable Player this year.

Houston may still not only win, but win convincingly – unless you think Jamison Olave out, Roy Miller in is going to shake out a lot differently than I do.  Red Bulls fans must have opened up Major League Soccer Soccer and had panic attacks.  Matt Doyle believes that Brandon Barklage, and not Miller, will step in, which to me is the difference between a closely-fought game and a Houston coronation.

Also, it looks like someone has found where Omar Cummings has been.  Turns out he plays for Houston now.  I know, I'm as surprised as you are.

I'm still attached, however wrongly, to the idea that Houston has Been Here Before and is Used to the Pressure.  I didn't read anything about them discovering a cure for Metro Playoff Fever, either.  This is an elimination game where everything that has happened before goes out the window.  The Red Bulls don't have guys who have been there.  Especially now that Jamison Olave will miss the return leg.

Thierry Henry?  Please.  One thing.  Name one thing that Thierry Henry has ever won.  Ever.  Ever in his entire life.  Take as much time as you like.  Go Google or Bing or Yahoo it or whatever.  Search to your heart's content.  Then come back here and tell me one thing, one tiny little thing, no matter how trivial, that he's ever won.  Go on, check.  I'll wait.  I'll wait right here until you come back.  In fact, for every person who writes back with an example of ANYTHING that Henry has ever, EVER, won, I will okay, so maybe Henry is used to pressure.  But what about his teammates?

Cahill, fine, maybe.  But what have they won HERE?  Huh?  Got you.

The goalscoring prowess of Aurelin Collin and Sean Franklin – this is a weird, weird league – has made a huge difference in the playoffs.  Both games will have the visiting team protecting a one goal lead.  Both New England and Los Angeles are pretty confident in their defenses, or at least they should be – but a road shutout is a tough request even against bad teams.

Oh, New England has six shutouts on the road this regular season?  Er, um, a lot of those were early in the year.

Why am I hesitant about the Spizards all of a sudden?  Zusi, Besler, Saad, Sapong, Nielsen, Collin.  That's a damn good team.  They should handle this.  New England's got a nice upside, I don't think Jay Heaps will turn into Ben Olsen as a coach, but Kansas City should be able to handle this.  Then again, they should have won the East and the Shield and so forth.  And I am picking them to lose MLS Cup, not win, so maybe it's time for Kansas City to prove me wrong.  Like that doesn't happen a lot.

Or, maybe New England are just dead-set against Benny Feilhaber getting a ring.  This is a series, almost as much as New York-Houston, that has "something weird and stupid and MLS is going to happen" written all over it.

The Galaxy only have three road shutouts – and one of those was "at" Chivas USA, and shouldn't count.  The other one, though, was in Rio Tinto Stadium…so that probably should count.

I think Salt Lake-Galaxy will be the real final.  Heh.  Real.  Wow, that works a lot of ways, as I think it will be Real's final game of the season.   Words are fun.

I read a lot about Robbie Keane having a bad game, about both sides missing easy shots – well, I saw something different.  Nick Rimando is the best goalkeeper in the league.  Chris Schuler made my talk about Salt Lake missing Olave look as stupid as Olave's red card.  Real Salt Lake was a good team executing a solid defensive game plan – no one expected Sean Franklin to channel Roberto Carlos.

That said, shutting down Keane and Donovan two games in a row is a task that I think is beyond any other team in the league – and it's not as if the Galaxy are unarmed without those two.  We all know about Omar Gonzalez on set pieces.  I also expect/hope Gyassi Zardes to break through very soon.  And you can't discount the big game heroics of Mike Magee oh, that's right, never mind.

Ever read Morgan Llywelyn's "Red Branch"?  Okay, that's sort of out of nowhere.  The Galaxy are Cu Chulainn, Real Salt Lake is Ferdiad.  But there's a point where the armies of Ulster and Connaught are gathering to watch the champions, and Queen Maeve is saying, "Wait, why are we doing this?  We have the bigger army, why don't we just fight?"  And Fergus mac Roy tells her, "You are watching a contest of champions, woman.  Enjoy it."

I'm paraphrasing – sorry, Morgan, if you're reading.  And no, the Galaxy and Salt Lake aren't best friends fighting because of forces beyond their control.

But it's a contest of champions.  Enjoy it.

So, I'm sticking by my picks.  Until, oh, Wednesday afternoon.