A Tail of Two Teams
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.
Okay, apologies to Mr. Dickens. However, that quote and post title really seemed to sum up my thoughts after the two matches I followed on Tuesday night.
The first match was televised on FSC. A regional Champions League Semi-Final between a team who, by an measure, never should have reached this stage of the competition and a top team from the league which dominates the competition.
The second match was a qualifying match was a qualifying round match-up between a team considered to be one (perhaps even The) glamor clubs in the country, former winners of the competition and a team with a fair bit of silverware in it’s trophy case and a team which has been a per annual “also-ran” in the league. No TV or radio was available for this match. Only a inconsistently updated matchtracker with which to follow it.
Both matches were a “win or go home” game. Both matches went to extra time and penalties before we had winners. However, as far as entertainment, they could not have been more different.
Puerto Rico Islanders were playing in what was easily the biggest match of their short history. They managed to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League by playing their way through qualifying rounds against other Caribbean teams and eventually reached the actual Champions League. Tuesday night they were defending a 2-0 lead from the home leg against Mexican power, Cruz Azul. They nearly did it. They did a great job preserving the advantage but the pros from the Mexican Capital leveled the aggregate score with half an hour remaining. The match went to extra time where Puerto Rico went back in front during the first period only to give up the lead before the final whistle. If away goals counted in extra time or if they were playing golden goals, we’d have a second tier team in the final. By the end of the match, heavy legs and cramping was taking over as everyone on the pitch, both teams, gave everything they had to insure their team moved on. However, it wasn’t to be for the Underdogs. However, the Isles can hold their heads up for producing such a great run. Here’s the thing though, their season hasn’t even started yet. Good luck to them. Great job. And it’s not like any MLS teams got anywhere near as far as them.
Speaking of MLS, the other match I was referring to pitted two MLS clubs against each other in the first qualifying round of the oldest sports competition in North America. LA Galaxy and Colorado Rapids had to play their way into the US Open Cup by virtue of their poor finish to last seasons league campaign. Both teams finished out of the playoffs-in a league where we still have more teams make it than don’t. LA, the glamor club of the league after the much publicized signing of some English player fielded a team of, well, reserves players would be too generous a term. Colorado? I’ve no idea who’s on their squad these days but I’m guessing they didn’t field their strongest XI either. Needless to say, the match went 120 minutes without any goals. LA coach, president, General Manager and Tim Lieweke lackey (well, doesn’t everyone in the organization do whatever the AEG boss commands?) said after the match that he was happy LA didn’t let in a goal…it showed improvement–or words to that effect. He’s right. The LA defense has been a sieve this season. But it doesn’t say much for the team this season or the commitment to the competition.
So, I can hear those of you reading this far asking, what’s your point? My point, I’m not sure I have one, well, just one. See, first, this seems to be further evidence that LA (and possibly MLS as a whole) don’t understand the sport and fans. The announced attendance at the HDC for the LA-Colorado match was just over 6000. That’s actually not a poor number when you compare it to previous attendance in the competition–yeah, I know US Soccer is responsible for marketing and selling Open Cup tickets–but I’ve a feeling that number was a bit inflated. Perhaps with match thrown in with season tickets bought to see Beckham play his handful of matches. Playing a reserve line-up in a match which is included in Season Ticket packages? Nah, that’s not how you win fans who’ll fork out more money. It’s about making money, pure and simple. Value? What’s that? You should be happy to spend time in the lovely stadium and actually see a match…or something like that.
Here’s the thing, I’ve recently had discussions with Kartik Krishnaiyer–also the main guy at MajorLeagueSoccerTalk.com–via Twitter about the differences between MLS teams and USL teams and how two former USL towns are now breaking the mold for attendance against original MLS teams. What we came to was, MLS teams keep trying different tricks (DP/Becks Rule being the latest) to attract attention and ticket sales while USL teams have had to provide the best service possible and produce the best possible product on the field to attract fans. They developed fans of the team, not LookyLoos just wanting to see what the fuss is all about.
That, I believe, is the real difference and why MLS really isn’t reaching it’s true potential. Too much effort has been spent trying to create a buzz and create profits while pretty much ignoring those who are there already.
Either way, I hope the USL fans who followed the Islanders enjoyed the great run and I hope the LA fans (myself included) don’t have to deal with this awful period of a poor team with no improvement in sight.
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