MLS Play-offs, Hollywood-Style


Major League Soccer ended their season on Sunday with the MLS Cup final.  It was pretty close to exactly what the league front office would have scripted.  The conference finals, for the first time in recent memory, were exactly the teams MLS Comissioner Don Garber would have picked. No Sporting Kansas City, no Real Salt Lake, no Houston Dynamos, no (apologies to NW hipsters) Portland Timbers. Instead, it was Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane’s Los Angeles Galaxy against Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins’s Seattle Sounders in the West, with Thierry Henry’s (and Tim Cahill’s) New York Red Bulls against Jermaine Jones’s (and Lee Nguyen’s) New England Revolution in the West.

While Garber would probably have preferred the draw of a retiring Henry (and a New York viewership) to face off against Landy Cakes in his final game, the Revolution were deserving winners, and in a way represent a different kind of win for the league. The Revolution were the league’s most recent by-fiat superstar franchise following the implosion of Michael Bradley’s and Jermaine Jones’s Toronto FC, and there is no question that the arrival of Jones was what propelled the Revs into the play-offs. It’s probably important for the league’s near-term strategy to have teams with high profile designated players winning things, and it’s not like Boston is Columbus, so this was still a winning final for the league in PR terms.

For that matter, the game itself was pretty good as cup finals go, even though none of the key performers had particularly good games (for a serious assessment, check out MichaelCox‘s annual foray into MLS Cup Final analysis–as always, a good read). The Galaxy looked dominant in the first half but couldn’t finish the job, with League MVP Robbie Keane looking especially poor in his decision-making. But after New England started the second half well by switching Jones into a deeper position, Gyasi Zardes finally made his evening-long dominance over Andrew Farrell count for a 51′ goal. The game seemed done and dusted, but out of nothing substitute Patrick Mullins and life-long Revolution supporter Chris Tierney combined at 79′ to equalize. New England were energized through the rest of regulation and the 1st half of overtime, but Los Angeles re-emerged in the 2nd. Despite a truly bad game, Robbie Keane was still able to get onto the end of a 111′ long ball by Marcelo Sarvas and score with his first touch to snatch a deserved victory and an undeserved MLS Cup MVP. It was a night of hometown heroes: both Zardes and Tierney are homegrown players for their respective clubs, while Keane, of course, was a childhood supporter of Los Angeles. (Pop Quiz: how old was Keane when the Galaxy were formed?)

Landon Donovan did little other than retire, but he was still the main story of the evening. Make of that what you will.

In the other American Soccer final this Sunday, Florida State edged Virginia in an all-ACC final of the Women’s NCAA Championship. Virginia were a sweet passing team that led the nation in goals per game, but they had lost both regular season meetings with FSU’s more direct side. Florida State’s team is also a pleasure to watch, with seven internationals starting and a one-armed winger in Carson Pickett. Right wing Jamia Fields cut inside and created her own goal at 83′ to score the game’s sole goal. The Men’s semifinals will be televised on ESPNU this Friday, as will the final on Sunday.

Header image combines elements of photos from raindog808 and Mateusz Kudła, used under creative commons license.

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