MLS Cup 2015 - Where the Demons Dwell, and They Do Live Well

The most cherished achievement in MLS - Greg Lalas' cell phone number is obtained by Alejandro Moreno.  To the left, a shiny object.

The most cherished achievement in MLS - Greg Lalas' cell phone number is obtained by Alejandro Moreno.  To the left, a shiny object.

The Flaws of Television as a Medium of Sports Broadcasting 101.

In one of the embedded videos of that Twitter conversation, you will hear Taylor Twellman say, "That ball was two yards out of bounds."

Hold your arms apart as far as you can - like you're doing the Leonardo da Vinci drawing pose.  Ideally, do this while holding a regulation size 5 soccer ball in one hand.  If you are an average American adult male, two yards away from the ball is about two inches beyond your other hand.

Twellman later clarified:

A yard and a half, according to Bing's handy measurement converter, is 0.0007406 nautical miles.  Slightly more to the point, a yard and a half is four and a half feet.  If that ball was four and a half feet out of bounds, we can therefore conclude that Alvas Powell is 27 feet tall. 

Here's a rough visual approximation of the scale of that mistake:

It is not your job to be as confused as Nigel.

It is not your job to be as confused as Nigel.

(In fairness, Twellman's vision problems were apparently contagious, because Tony Tchani - who just might possibly have been applying a little post-unbelievable error bias - had the ball out of bounds by a yard.  That would make Powell a mere 18 feet tall, so that's clearly a more rational observation.)

This is a roundabout, although divertingly amusing, way of saying that I worry the television broadcast might not have conveyed the full MLS Cup experience.

Because it was awesome.  It was an amazing, fantastic, glorious afternoon for soccer and soccer fans in America.  If for some reason ESPN was unable to convey just how great the atmosphere in Crew Stadium was yesterday, write your Congressman.  If you didn't feel the electricity through the screen, well, it was ESPN's job to get that across.  If they couldn't, well, I'll try my best long after the fact.

The vibe in Kansas City a couple of years ago looked great.  But Sporting's renaissance with its fan outreach (or maybe even naissance) has been very well documented, and MLS Cup 2013 was after all in one of MLS' great new stadiums.  We all love Columbus Crew Stadium, but scientifically designed to the specifications of the modern fan experience it is not.  It's just great, is all.

No one who has seen a US-Mexico game from Columbus, let alone attended one, should have been that surprised - except the Crew, even very recently, were not thought of as a club that has connected with its city.  Well, maybe you all knew how popular the Crew are in Columbus these days, but my eyes were open on Sunday.  Everybody was wearing team colors.  Everybody was fired up.  Everybody was standing.

Portland fans - well, "helped" isn't the right word, but contributed, sure.  (Would have been amusing to see a section of my fellow jaded Galaxy fans quietly waiting for our first couple of goals, wouldn't it?  No?)  Timbers fans are not suffering for want of praise this week.  When Crew fans have been mentioned, it's been in the context of whether they're selling enough tickets.  Well, they made the place crackle, let me assure you. 

And it started long before kickoff.  When I was driving up, my hopes were low enough that I passed my time composing songs for my prospective musical adaptation of this Cup, "We Hate Seattle More Than You."  I showed up very early, to experience the slow build.  Good call, me. 

The Timbers fans were in the parking lot early, and concentrated.  No surprise there.  I've been a visiting fan at these things, too - you want to get into character, and aren't into the whole good sportsmanship, may the best team win horsecrap.  Not in those minutes before marching into the stadium, you're not.

The Crew fans were, at first, not as focused.  The comfort zone of home fans in a big occasion means that, from the outside, things are seemingly business as usual.  Then more and more fans arrive, a lot earlier than usual.  Then the fans line up at the gate, a lot earlier than usual. 

I chatted with a couple of friends (sorry if I missed the others), but I didn't interview anyone.  I've been there; it would have been cruel.  You're two hours away from glory or heartbreak, and you can feel how big this is going to be.  That kind of atmosphere isn't one mass, it's made up of individuals building anxious excitement from within...multiplied by thousands.  It's unfair to ask someone to try to put that feeling into words at the time, and pointless because half the time the person is drunk anyway.

But no one needed to ask anyone if this was a big deal, anyone could feel it.   Atmosphere doesn't decide a game - the Crew would have won if it did.  Atmosphere is there to be enjoyed for its own sake.  When it works, it's worth the price of admission - heck, it's what you're paying for. 

MLS Cup has it.  That's why my only reaction to the TV ratings is a sympathetic shrug.  Sorry people missed the party.  Try to make it next year.

Selfishly, I wished there had been an equalizing goal - then your screen would have shook.  Portland fans clearly wouldn't agree, but then again, they wanted the game over after only ten minutes.  What fun would that have been?

Yes, the Crew fans were quiet when they fell behind by The Most Dangerous Lead in less time that it took to drive through a White Castle, and with just as many bad decisions involved.  I've been in that situation, too.  Quite a few fans kept cheering, in order to let their team know they hadn't given up hope.  But I totally understand the reaction of "Oh, apparently all that cheering was distracting you.  I'll keep quiet so you can concentrate on getting back in the game, which by the way started already, think you should know."

I suppose I should talk a little bit about the game...but even that is informed by the amazing atmosphere.  What looked to you like a farce was a white knuckle ride in the stadium - hell, even in the auxiliary press box.  We had no idea what was going to happen from one minute to the next.  Steve Clark, with the mental error?  With the playoffs he had been having?  Not just Tony Tchani, but NOBODY in gold playing to the whistle?  A goal-mouth scrum (or, a foul on the goalkeeper, if you like) putting the Crew back into it, when it seemed just as likely Portland would be up 4-0 by halftime?  Jair Marrufo calling not a damn thing?  The Nordecke with a tribute to the Azteca after the second goal? 

Quick aside - and this is how surreal my experience of the game ended up - I saw my minister at the game in the south end above the Timbers fans.  It's tempting to believe that my minister is, in a secret identity, a scarf/mask wearing Hudson Street Hooligan, but unfortunately for comedy purposes, he was one of the few Crew fans there who wasn't bedecked in black and gold.  But even he was visibly aggravated by the out of bounds call.  Imagine how the Nordecke felt.

Okay, yeah, if anyone would have a minister who was also a beer-throwing drunk hardcore supporter, it would be me.  But unless he put on a plain sweater to cover his "Columbus Til I Die" T-shirt, that's not him. 

I'm pretty sure.

Back to the story.  I have noticed some of the reactions to the game center around its alleged lack of quality.  To that I have three simple words - bitch, bitch, bitch.  Come on, people.  That was forty-five minutes of beautiful madness.  I didn't want it to end.  I'm still sad it did.  And people were complaining about it?  Because it wasn't elegant or dazzling or coherent?  Welcome to MLS!  The hills have eyes, but the AR's don't.  MLS crazy is the very, very best crazy.  If you don't like it, go watch the beer commercials between the NFL commercials and quit hating fun.

I mean, that was a hell of a half.  The only thing we all agreed on was that there was no way it was going to end 2-1.

And then Steve Clark turned into Tim Howard, and Caleb Porter's jittery jumble of sugar-addled preschoolers turned into Delta Force.  It was Berhalter, not Porter, who panicked with his subs, abandoning the middle in hopes of overloading the attack - and gifting more and more possession to the Timbers. 

All that is true in hindsight.  At the time, you couldn't be sure of anything.  Even what we had was a constant test of grit and gamesmanship.  Not for the faint of heart, but the faint of heart should have been weeded out long before.

God, the gamesmanship, such as it was, to go with the tactics, such as they were.  You might not have seen during the broadcast the spectacle of future MLS Cup MVP Diego Valeri not merely down, but splayed as if Godzilla was his proctologist.  All this during an extended Crew attack - only to miraculously/inevitably recover when the Timbers recovered the ball and started a counter.

Here's another way I would sum up this game:

That, for those of you reading this aloud to someone unable to view the screen, is an MLS Cup 2015 MVP ballot.  You will have noticed it is not filled out.  That is 5% because MLS gathers these things up five minutes before the end of regulation, and at that point I would have bet two pints of blood that we would somehow get to overtime.

It's 95%, however, down to me having little if any idea who to nominate.  Diego Valeri ended up winning - a plausible enough pick if you think it was his mental awareness, rather than Clark's error, that made the goal.  "Borchers?" I thought at the time, on the grounds that he anchored the defense that closed down (for the most part) Kei Kamara and the Crew.  I probably now agree with Sam Stejskal, who gave Jorge Villafaña the highest rating of the game for shutting down Ethan Finley - except he was slightly less effective against Cedrick Mabwati. 

Perhaps the MVP should have gone to the Timbers Army. If only for the violent riot that would have broken out among the disappointed home crowd.

This was amazing and glorious and great, I wish I had come earlier, stayed longer, met more people, and I'd do it again tomorrow.  Balls to your 0.3.

--------------------------

POST CREDIT BONUS SCENE

EXT - LATE FALL AFTERNOON - MAPFRE STADIUM

The TIMBERS ARMY has arrived.  They face off against the NORDECKE.  The music starts.

TIMBERS ARMY
We have come here without pity
From the Rose and Soccer City
We've blazed a trail wide and true
You think your rage imposing
But to us you're only posing
We hate Seattle more than you!

NORDECKE
Starbucks has no importance
Because we have got Tim Horton's
And the real OSU
To our never-ending ire
They tried to take our qualifier
We hate Seattle more than you!

OMNES
So we are together
Strangely enough, in rainy weather
For a championship rendez-vous
You're rude, offensive bounders
But at least you're not the Sounders
We hate Seattle more than
No one's a bigger bore than
They really make us sore, and
We hate Seattle more than you!
Doobity-doo
Yes, we hate Seattle more than YOUUUUUUU! 

....it was a boring drive, what can I say