I know there's lots of FIFA news, and I hate to bump Bill, but geez, I gotta write about something. Don't I? Maybe I don't.
Except there's news here in America we need to discuss. Yes, need. Sit down. Pay attention.
So Kansas City won its third trophy in four seasons...each one on penalty kicks. That keeps their goal differential in championship finals all time at +1. Which is hard to do, if you're going to win five out of six of those finals. (It would have been at zero, or worse, if Dema Kovalenko hasn't handled the ball at the Home Depot Center in 2004. Then again, it might have been more than +1 if the 2000 Wizards had not had a strict one goal per game policy.)
SKC has now elbowed its way alongside Los Angeles and Seattle as Successful Franchises This Decade. On the strength of the margin of error. Is that what we're passing off as a dynasty these days? Of all the nerve.
It's an oft-told story no less amazing for repetition, but this franchise was at death's door, knocking loudly. Now, it has become a model MLS 5.0 franchise. It seems like it's a lot of fun being a City fan these days, and there sure are more of them than ever. Despite moving to Kansas, attendance for the team is better than ever.
And all this time I thought Missouri loves company. I'm very sorry.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Union has lost the Open Cup final in consecutive years - both times after regulation. Their reward for this - and, of course, for consistently disappointing regular season play - is front office turmoil before the season is officially over.
And thus we encounter that most American of beasts, Parity.
Of the major US domestic trophies, the Open Cup is the most variable. It's 102 years old, no team has won it more than five times, and no team has lost the final more than four times.
I looked this up, actually. San Pedro Yugoslavs of the Greater Los Angeles Soccer League lost the Cup final four times during the 70's and 80's, and never won. This was before Scott Norwood, and not in consecutive years, so the Yugoslavs were more like the Minnesota Vikings of the Open Cup than the Buffalo Bills. The Union, you will notice, are on a pace to match this mark in 2017, and break it in 2018.
The Open Cup Final is usually a close run game, and this year was absolutely no exception. A close game isn't necessarily exciting, despite (or because of) the tension caused by the high stakes. But we've been fortunate lately. Even the games decided by more than one goal were closer than the score would indicate - the Sounders had some overmatched opposition in 2011 and last year, and left things late.
And now we encounter that other great American beast...overstating the causes and effects of Parity.
Penalty kick shootouts are awful, terrible, and a scourge on all that is good and decent. But they are not random. Neither is the home run derby, which is another exciting, dramatic event that is a tiny representation of the greater game it represents.
Worse still, penalty kicks are not reproducible in a practice situation. The first edition of Soccernomics back in 2008 or so devoted some time to the theory that penalty kicks were not a lottery (largely true) and could be practiced and prepared for. And, like so much of Soccernomics, it ran aground when faced with objective reality.
Okay, sure. You could practice penalties during, er, practice. But the thing about the penalty kick shootout is, it comes after two hours of running around to and past the point of exhaustion. Why do you think Roberto Baggio missed in 1994? Why do you think Chris Waddle/David Beckham/insert Englishman here let down the nation? Why do you think Japan overcame the US in 2011? Carli Lloyd missed one that year. Carli Freaking Lloyd.
So replicate the penalty kick shootout situation in practice! Leave it towards the end, after driving players to exhaustion! I don't think even Juergen Klinsmann would consider that as a training regimen.
So play less aggressively! Run less! Save yourself for penalties! Sounds like a terrific way to lose in the 119th minute, if you ask me. Or much earlier.
Jim Curtin, to the absolute delight of Union fans at the time, subbed in a fresh goalkeeper. (Although someone should tell the US Soccer site that McCarthy was not an unused substitute, just kept very very very late.) Should he have subbed in a fresh field player five or ten minutes earlier? Extremely easy for me to say - and exactly who would be our designated hero in this situation? Keep in mind we're drawing from a field of "not good enough to start for, or be one of the first two substitutes for, the Philadelphia Union."
The Wizards - sorry, the Was-ards - were and are deeper and more talented than Philadelphia. So was Seattle, last year. Perhaps Nick Sakiewicz keeps his job if the ball bounces widdershins instead of turnwise a couple of times...but perhaps not. Brian Straus overstated how much Kansas City's culture of winning was responsible for the result, which is an occupational hazard when trying to split the hairs of a shootout win:
Sporting demonstrated its ability to fight through adversity and handle the rough patches created by a spirited, occasionally desperate opponent. SKC made the play it needed to stay alive and then maintained its composure through the tension of an extended penalty shootout. Those intangibles often are the difference between gold and silver. It’s a mentality and culture that’s produced three major trophies in four seasons (SKC also won the 2012 Open Cup and ’13 MLS Cup) and then put Melia and Németh in position to be difference makers. Vermes and SKC’s veterans have built a foundation strong that’s enough to elevate newcomers.
Depth isn't an intangible, though. And it's very, very easy - exactly as easy as it was last year - to construct a narrative for the Union that celebrates a gutsy group of underdogs who believe in themselves and elevate their game against a more talented side when the stakes are high.
That's still true even though Philadelphia didn't win. Wins, losses, and goal differential aren't intangibles, either - and those all say that the Union are significantly inferior to Seattle and Kansas City. Philadelphia made those games close.
So was Sakiewicz framed? Was he victim of parity and bad bounces?
Of course not. Wins, losses, goal differential, playoff appearances, fan revolts - still tangibles. Curtin's Union had to overcome obstacles SKC didn't, because the Union created those obstacles for themselves. Ben Olsen set the precedent that Open Cup wins secure rickety employment - but one or two Open Cup wins that would have been as lucky as the losses were unlucky shouldn't have outweighed Sakiewicz' body of work.
Philadelphia is a franchise fighting against many established big time franchises from a stadium uncomfortably off the beaten path. Like Chicago. And like Kansas City, proving that such a position is not a death sentence. Kansas City wins, and the Fire and Union lose, because they have been better at drawing and keeping fans. That, and not some airy "culture of winning," is the way forward.
Also, kind of weird that Taylor and Adrian talked so much about C.J. Sapong's DUI. I guess it's newsworthy, and I suppose it shows grit that MLS broadcasters won't avoid dirty laundry, but I don't remember hearing a damn thing over the air about Peter Vermes when that happened, just saying.
....okay, so, the US and Mexico.
Here's a tangible intangible for you - the Mexican federation is one of the most ridiculously run flea circuses in world soccer today, and the number one beneficiary of that is Juergen Klinsmann. He's going to coach - I'm tempted to put the word in scare quotes - the US to another victory over Mexico this weekend, and it is entirely down to how by far the richest, best-supported, most talented national team in CONCACAF is run by meerkats on sugar highs.
Meanwhile US Soccer has built a program entirely around the presence and prestige of the coach, more than any other professional sports team outside Duke basketball. You would think a growing sport would pay lip service to promoting the players fans pay to see - after all, Klinsmann isn't going to coach MLS teams on weekends, is he? But one way to keep players hungry and obedient is to keep them anonymous, I guess.
Which isn't necessarily the best way to run a railroad, either. You might have noticed Landon Donovan this week saying if Klinsmann loses - which he won't, unfortunately - he should be fired. Donovan is currently hiding behind the fact that this is true and fair...but c'mon. This was a knife in Klinsmann's ribs, and everyone knows it. He wouldn't have said that about Bradley or Arena if he was hooked up to a car battery. There's a difference between truth and tact. Landon didn't say this true, hurtful thing this close to an important game simply because someone asked him. He'd want Klinsmann out even if he derps his way to a win this weekend (which he will, damn it all). I'd be very upset with Donovan if I didn't agree with him so much.
But think about why you noticed Landon waxing lyrical about his former employer. Major League Soccer Soccer and the LA Galaxy made sure you knew about Donovan's opinions. Which is normal, seeing as how Landon plays for oh wait a minute, no, he doesn't, does he? It's not surprising to see Landon give his opinion. It's a little surprising to see MLS hand him a megaphone to do so.
And before you tell me it's news - sure. Remind me of last time the Arsenal or Liverpool official site trashed...whoever's coaching England this month, but, him, that guy. Hodgesarrrrgh. (I'm cranking out the Pratchett references today.)
The problem is, Mexico isn't going to oblige, because Mexico's national team is a Manhattan Project Dramabomb. They have to rent a coach for this weekend, and they are going to turn the gig over to the worst coach in Red Bulls history.
Juergen Klinsmann won a World Cup as a player because the whole world wanted to see Argentina lose, and he's going to coach the US forever because Mexico can't get out of its own way. The US is going to laugh its way through qualifying, if all that stands in the way is the genius of Juan Carlos Osorio. And Klinsmann's legend will grow ever upward
Perhaps that's the best way to form a winning mentality - have losers for opponents.