Sunday, November 18, 2007

mls cup

So I got to a sports bar a little after noon today and waited for the day's NFL games to begin. One TV was showing the MLS Cup Final, Major League Soccer's championship game, between the Houston Dynamo and the New England Revolution. Supporters from both clubs were at RFK Stadium making lots of noise. It looked like a pretty entertaining game with a great atmosphere

Then at 1:00 PM sharp, every TV automatically switched to one of the 10 NFL games kicking off at that time. Nobody in the bar would really get a chance to notice that atmosphere -- nor would they see the two goals the Dynamo scored in the second half to win the game and keep the Revolution, who won the U.S. Open Cup last month, from taking the double.

This strikes me as something of a scheduling gaffe. I understand that MLS wants to give club supporters an opportunity to travel to the game and enjoy their afternoon, but how does this league expect to attract American sports fans to its product -- and the kind of stadium atmosphere only soccer fans can produce -- if it schedules its championship at a time that virtually guarantees that only hardcore fans are paying attention?

How many people in America got to see Dwayne De Rosario's game winner in the 74th minute, which gave the Dynamo a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish? How many people got to see all the fans from both teams celebrating goals and chanting for their sides? Chances are that number will prove to be very, very low -- much lower than it would have been if the game were held on, say, a Saturday night, which would have given club supporters enough time to get to Washington and would not have competed with quite as many interesting college football games.

Not that this seems to matter all that much to MLS commissioner Don Garber. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Garber talked a lot about how great an investment property MLS clubs have become, and how the league is approaching profitability. He even threw this gem out there.
Profitability is directly correlated to player salaries. As we continue to see more positive development on revenue side we have been investing more and more into our player pool. MLS could be profitable today if spent less money on players.
Some MLS players make about $30,000 a year, which is the league minimum. The league's collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of 2009. Enjoy the next two seasons, MLS fans, because if Garber doesn't think players should clock more than 30 large a season, a labor strike is inevitable, and the talent is going to scatter to the four corners of the globe. How good will your investments be then, Mr. Garber?
WASHINGTON -- On a perfect fall morning, with multi-colored trees and RFK Stadium serving as the backdrop, Mary O'Malley and 12-year-old son Patrick wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. Soccer Celebration was their warmup to the MLS Cup and their leisurely stroll across the grounds was just the right start to a day they had been waiting for with anticipation.
The O'Malleys came not from New England or Houston, but from Chicago. Mary O'Malley's company, ChemCentral, won a raffle at a Fire game that brought two tickets to MLS Cup 2007. Her CEO, John Yanney, gave the tickets to the O'Malleys, creating a day of bonding between mother and son.

"We're just thrilled to be here," Mary O'Malley said with a smile.

Patrick O'Malley, a budding youth soccer player, echoed those sentiments. He and his mom both wore Fire shirts to Sunday's game. The only that could have made their trip to Washington more enjoyable would have been if Chicago had made it to the Cup.

"I'm a bit disappointed the Fire didn't make it, but I'm still really happy to come," Patrick O'Malley said.

Mary O'Malley learned more than a week ago that she and her son were in for a special soccer weekend. Yanney had remembered Patrick O'Malley attending one of the Fire games in the company suite and having a great time.

Patrick O'Malley wrote Yanney a nice thank-you note. When the MLS Cup tickets became available through the raffle, Yanney decided Patrick O'Malley and his mom were the best representatives for the company.

"It's a beautiful day and we got to stay at the Grand Hyatt last night," Mary O'Malley said. "There were players walking around. It was just amazing."

Revolution fans Pam and Jeff Davis, who live in the Boston area, were also relishing the Soccer Celebration experience before entering RFK Stadium.

"You couldn't ask for a better day for a game," Davis said. "I'm a Revolution season-ticket holder, so I really wanted to be here. I just feel like this has to be their year. If the Red Sox could break through, I think these guys can do it, too. And hopefully, in a shorter time frame."

Davis said it's a great time to be a sports fan from New England.

"Even the (NBA) Celtics are perking up this year," Pam Davis said with a laugh.

Although Houston fans had farther to travel, Dynamo also had their share of ardent supporters making their way to Washington.

Dan Tiegs from Katy, Texas, a Houston suburb, made quick plans for a Washington weekend family trip after Dynamo earned a second consecutive trip to the MLS Cup.

"We're lucky enough to be at the same hotel as the team," Tiegs said. "With this sport, unlike most, the players are very approachable. They are great with the kids. All in all, it has really been a sweet weekend. We'll remember this trip for a long time."

Q: Is each trip to the finals its very own story, or is there something similar about the four times you've been here and come away empty?

STEVE NICOL: No, not at all. Everyone's completely unassured. If we were told before the game the chances we'd make in the game, I'd have been happy. It's real simple for me. You don't take your chances. You leave your team hanging around, then it comes back and bites you, and that's exactly what happened today.

Q: Steve Ralston was fairly effective for 60 minutes today, then I noticed he came off. What happened with Steve?

STEVE NICOL: He cramped up.


Q: Jay, is this one particularly hard to take because it seems so well set up for you? Everyone was healthy, the team well rested, not a long travel trip, big day to play?

JAY HEAPS: Yeah, they've all been tough. But I think this is tough just because, you know, it was an opportunity again, and we look forward to getting back here. And I wish I could put into words how tough the game is. We fought hard. And the problem was we just, you know we didn't take our chances.

But at the same time, we've been a great defensive team this playoff, and we're a little disappointed that we let even a scrappy goal. A great goal you got let in, try to figure it out. But the scrappy goal, we felt like we defended scrappy goals all year. Until that one went in, it was a little disheartening.

For the 2006 season, MLS created their version of the scudetto (Italian: "small shield"), a symbol worn on the jersey by the team who won the previous season's Serie A (the top Italian league).

The MLS scudetto is a curved, triangular badge featuring a backdrop of the American flag behind a replica of the Alan I. Rothenberg MLS Cup trophy. The MLS scudetto is worn by the winning team the season following the victory. It is only during the subsequent season (two years after winning the championship), that the team adds a star ― a common soccer signifier of titles won ― above the team logo. The team can display the star on other items beside their jersey in the year after winning the Cup, but only if the scudetto is not shown.

The 2005 MLS Cup champion, the Los Angeles Galaxy, was the first team to wear the scudetto and now has a second star above the team shield on the jersey during the 2007 season[1].


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