Unfiltered Thinking: Beckham, Donovan, MLS Cup 2009

When writing about a game that involves a team I support I like to take the approach of looking at the cup as being both half full or half empty. As a (mostly) non-partisan observer for MLS Cup I didn’t want to pollute this blog with such thinking.

(I am, however, surprised that I haven’t yet seen an overtime/penalty related headline somewhere about how “The Cup Runneth Over”… )

Instead, here are some largely unfiltered thoughts on yesterday’s MLS Cup.

It was a Cup Final – Last night’s game was not filled with particularly pretty soccer nor as many goal-mouth chances as I’d like to see, but this is what Cup finals are often like.   What was noticeable: players cared.   Players played sick.  Players tried to play hurt.  Fans watched.  (Actually I don’t know that anybody watched, but I can hope.)

Counter ‘this’ – I was lightly supporting RSL over LA last night, mostly because I like the approach Jason Kreis takes (“He’s making an offensive sub, so early, what about penalties?  Go Jason!”) and as a sentimental vote for ex-Rev Andy Williams who I always liked and whose personal/family story was so compelling this year.   What solidified my support for RSL was this . . . they held the ball, the tried to play on the ground, the wanted to play soccer.   LA never seemed quite capable of that despite Donovan and Beckham’s presence – and appeared to be content to try to win by striking on the quick counter.   While possibly effective, it is not my favorite style.

Penalties – Most people start their rant with “what a terrible way to end a game”… fine.  What’s the realistic alternative?   The players were dead tired and the soccer was beginning to suffer greatly.   Penalties are certainly dramatic, require some level of skill and provide a chance to feed the US fixation on goalkeepers (more on that below.)  I don’t know a better, reasonable, solution.

Beckham – Frankly, I am glad his team lost.  This is not because I’m anti-Beckham, in fact, I think MLS is better with him in it than without him.    However, what I like is that this loss helps the MLS marketing department write the story line around Beckham’s “unfinished business” to create some drama after his Milan loan draws to a close.   (Too bad he doesn’t have a deep evil voice – quite the opposite in fact – or he could have stormed off with an Arnold-esque “I’ll be back” snarl.)

Landon – The contrast of the first goal’s pin-point cross from the wing to his missed penalty and absentee performance post the 45 minute mark pretty much sums up the confusion MLS and US fans have about Landon Donovan.  It will certainly add fuel to the ‘Landycakes’ fire anyway.   Is he a World Class player whose absence from the US National Team shows us as bland and boring?  Is he a player how only really shows well in less-meaningful games and fades away when it matters most?     Like with my view on Becks, part of me was happy that Landon’s team lost.  I like the idea of a ticked-off Landon with something to prove taking the field in South Africa for the USA.  What I worry about is the reverse – some odd crisis of confidence that affects his decision making about his play and his next steps for his club future.

M.V.P. – I like Nick Rimando and both last night and the Chicago game show that he seems good at stopping penalties.  But I must admit it really bothers me when a goalkeeper – any goalkeeper – getts an MVP award.   I much prefer a field player gets it, and this game I’d say Kyle Beckerman was probably worthy.   I doubt most “soccer experts” would really argue this anti-goalkeeper stance, but there’s a continual need to pretend a US soccer fan couldn’t notice a good performance that didn’t directly result in one or more goals.

*Note: Beckerman’s hair may have removed him from eligibility for the MVP award.  Only the other Beck(ham) can be a super-star/sex symbol while having absolutely ridiculous hair.  And Beckham clearly wasn’t going to win anything last night . . .

Field Turf – I have mixed emotions on this.  The purist in me says a final should never be on turf.   Well, actually, the purist in me says a professional game should never be on turf.  (I may have turned off the TV if there were football lines, so at least that was addressed.)   However, there is a piece of me that also wants to say this.  SHUT UP.   “That injury only would happen on turf.” Maybe.  “You can see the affect of the turf on that play.”  Maybe.   Both teams played on the same pitch.  Both knew what type of surface they’d be on.   Both had some amount of time to practice.   Once the game starts, please just LET IT GO.   Alternatively we’d be hearing about the injury that only happened because of the divot in the grass or the pass that didn’t get completed due to the mud puddle.   PLAY THE GAME.   Let’s rid the game of turf if possible (thanks Toronto!) but let’s deal with it until that day.

So that wraps up MLS 2009… time to start watching the Collective Bargaining Agreement hyperbole that we will all be bombarded with and seeing if we can cut through the malarkey that gets spewed from both sides.