MLS Cup 2014 - Watership Down edition

Sorry I'm a day late, been fighting off a bug.

....no, it wasn't the game that made me sick, smartasses.  It was better than KC-Salt Lake last year, and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.  Maybe you think it should have been better.  I say, you saw three goals in a New England-LA Cup final, you should be ecstatic.

And, actually, by saying that, I flunk Galaxy history.  Forgotten in the rehashing of these teams' finals histories was their very first meeting - the 2001 Open Cup Final in beautiful, state-of-the-art-provided-the-art-we're-talking-about-are-the-Lascaux-cave-paintings Titan Stadium in Fullerton.  That game ended 2-1 in extra time.  That was also the final game of a future Hall of Famer who changed the course of American soccer forever - Paul Caligiuri, in this case.  In the words of Charles Dickens, all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.

For those of you who missed the game - the goals were pretty, even if the defense on them wasn't.  For the rest of the game, Paul Gardner is typically grumpy and depressingly accurate.  I think (apart from the goals) that both defenses rose to the occasion, and both Arena and Heaps drew up plans to shut down the others' many weapons.  Either that, or the big names on both teams simply brought their C- games.

Remember that simplistic, idiotic, "Jermanie v. Juninho" nutshell I did?  Apparently Jones won, but I certainly didn't think so watching the game.  The Revolution dominated time of possession, for what that's worth.  And yet, I thought the Galaxy were more in control, and generally had better possession and better buildups, only to founder at substandard performances from Landon and Robbie. 

But the stats say that the Revolution more than held their own.  They both had 16 shots, six on target, 5 off target, and five blocked.  And one of those for New England was off the woodwork - shades of Winston Griffiths in 2002. 

So apparently we need to put more heat on Nguyen and Davies.

Popular opinion seems to be that Juninho mercilessly shoved down Lee Nguyen in the penalty area early in the second half.  Naturally I disagree, since Nguyen should have gotten a shot off instead of stopping short and letting Juninho run into him to try to draw a penalty.  (Hey, that's how I saw it.  Juninho was running at top freaking speed, what was he supposed to do?  Highlights are here, you tell me.  Anyway, that's how Mark Geiger saw it, more to the point, so there.)  Maybe Nguyen somehow doesn't get it by Penedo, who seemed to be in much better form than a few weeks ago.  But at that point, the Revolution were getting very few looks at the Galaxy goal, and I thought at that point Nguyen lost the game for New England.

I was wrong of course, but that sure felt like a turning point.  Zardes scores a few minutes later, the Galaxy begin to make the Revolution chase, Heaps burns all his subs, and it was all going according to plan until the equalizer. 

Even after that, I thought the Galaxy were in a better position - all the subs remaining, and no more Scott Caldwell to help the Revolution slow down the Galaxy attack.

But then, we just had to have one of those irritating "never say die" moments MLS teams are so tediously fond of. 

But I do take exception to the premise that nobody played well.  AJ DeLaGarza was my MVP, not that anyone asked.  DeLaGarza has become a cherished secret among Galaxy fans - and, since his national team is freaking Guam, he's unlikely to get a bigger stage.  DeLaGarza is 27, hitting the prime of his career, and the Galaxy don't seem to have the kind of salary cap problems that forced them to offload Sean Franklin last year.  The "end of an era" vibe was all over Southern California, but with Omar Gonzalez and DeLaGarza in defense, the Galaxy won't drop terribly far in the standings.

Had Bruce Arena started AJDLG in the middle, like I thought, it probably would have been a shutout, and I would have gotten the score right as well as the winner, and I would have been homecoming king and Grand Poobah of the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo.  Slightly denting this premise is how I'm second-guessing Bruce Arena.  Idiot fans focus on one mistake and magnify them, and perhaps Leonardo's physical presence compensated for the goal he did so much to provide.

Yeah, Healey and Twellman blamed Omar for Jose Gonçalves' terrific pass to Patrick Mullins, and yes, Gonzalez failed to either dispossess Mullins or cut off the pass.  But Lord, the space Leonardo gave on that play.  "Well, here I am in the Stubhub Center - hey, it's New England Revolution defender-midfielder Chris Tierney.  I wonder what he wants."

Leonardo has three MLS Cup rings and was protected by the Galaxy.  So maybe the game turned on Gonzalez and Leonardo simply outmuscling Davies, Bunbury and Nguyen, and I was too busy ball-watching.  It happens.

Anyway, Leonardo could have given up three or four goals if the Galaxy offense, apart from Gyasi Zardes, had shown up for work. 

It's tempting to speculate how the Revolution could have come up with a winner in extra time, but it's also fun to speculate how the South could have won the Civil War.  New England wasn't THAT overmatched, but by the 110th minute, the Revolution were trying to find goals without Nguyen or Davies, while the Galaxy had shored up their defense and kept pretty much their basic formation.  Being deeper, more experienced and better-coached (sorry, Jay) has its perks.  Maybe the Revolution win on penalties, assuming Landon missed yet another shootout, but who would have taken them for New England?  The Galaxy still had their main penalty shooter on the field, the Revolution didn't. 

But of course, it didn't get that far.

I suppose I should address the whole Landon Donovan "fairy-tale" ending that, among others, Major League Soccer Soccer have put forward.  That falls badly on two counts.  First, and I think he would be among the first to admit this, that was not a particularly wonderful performance to leave on.  He wasn't exactly the only big name who didn't play well, but if you were going to write The Landon Donovan Story, he would have had another hat trick, then, as he was subbed out in the 85th minute to rapturous applause, taken the PA mike and said, "I seen a lot of people hate me and I didn't know what to feel about that so I guess they didn't like much nothin' either. During this fight, I've seen a lot of changing, the way youse feel about me, and in the way I felt about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that's better than 20 million. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!"

The other problem is - what kind of wacky fairy tale is the team from the biggest city with the most titles, and the player more decorated than the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the plucky underdog?  If Landon going out on top is a fairy tale ending, you might as well have the Wicked Witch enjoying Hansel au vin while Gretel is forced to watch.

....I think that's an awesome ending, myself, but then again, I am a Galaxy fan.

As underdogs go, New England probably won a bunch of friends.  They effectively tied the Galaxy, in their stadium.  Next year they will have Jermaine Jones for an entire year, on top of a fairly young roster that now officially has the Big Game Experience we kept yammering about giving the edge to the Galaxy.  Sure, they gave up two goals.  One in overtime.  To a team with a +36 home goal difference, or something insane like that.  They also got one back.  This is a team that could easily come back and lose another three or four MLS Cups.

I am so sorry about that, New England fans and decent people everywhere.  I understand you'd have to be both a Galaxy fan and a complete monster to mock what's happened to the Revolution over the years.  I answer to both, but I can't get there with New England.  When LA beat the Revolution in 2005, that was only their second finals loss - the Galaxy, after all, had lost three before breaking through, so we could perhaps be forgiven for thinking it would build character.  We had no idea what Houston had in store for New England, if only because the Dynamo didn't exist in 2005.

And nine years later - well, hey, "First To Five" cuts both ways.  The Galaxy were also nominees for the Biggest Loser, and - well, what was LA supposed to do?  Give the Revolution its title?  Galvanize its fan base?  Get the ball rolling on a soccer-specific stadium in one of the nation's true historic soccer hotbeds?  Breathe new life for MLS into not merely New England, but the whole East Coast? 

....oh, come on, don't look at me like that.  The Krafts should build New England their own stadium anyway.  The Sporting Kansas City template is right there.  They don't have to tear down Faneuil Hall to do it, just have it be closer than Foxboro.  And smaller.  And less turfy.  And maybe have more than one highway lead to it.  And break out the ASL throwbacks once in a while.  (New Bedford Whalers, too - don't just be all hipster and focus on the Marksmen only.  Or save the Marksmen for the Providence MLS team we know is coming.)

Whew.  Well, it was a heck of a season.  And Galaxy fans more than anyone know that there's no MLS Cup so ugly that the stars on the jersey aren't beautiful. 

Why, not even a rampant stomach flu can keep me from feeling on top of the worRRRRLBLREAAARRGHGHGH ALL OVER THE KEYBOARD urgggghhhh bleck

....well, so much for showing my face in this library ever again

....hey, has anyone asked Juan Agudelo what he thought of this game?