Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Snoozing Through the MLS Cup Final: Los Angeles 1 - Houston 0

Photo by Sean MacEntee
Major League Soccer did itself no favors putting its Cup Final on national television late on an East Coast Sunday night. If they were hoping to appeal to a West Coast crowd, maybe the plan worked. If they were hoping to capture the youth generation playing east of the Mississippi -- where fully two-thirds of the US population lives -- they were likely much less successful. It's reminiscent of the misstep Major League Baseball made a number of years ago, doing away with daytime World Series games, and moving the opening pitch of the Fall Classic to a time that caused games to end long after most children on the East Coast had gone off to bed -- and they lost a huge generation of fans to other sports, including soccer.

Making matters worse, the Cup featured on television opposite a Sunday night National Football League game, featuring a big game for two teams located in -- get  this -- the Eastern half of the Country. Oh, and the teams were both in the top 5 media markets in the US: New York (#1) and Philadelphia (#5). My guess is that the overnight East Coast rating for the game will be a steady 1.5 -- as in, maybe 1.5 people living on the US' East Coast watched the MLS Cup.

Meanwhile, the MLS could have had a fitting halftime show to rival the NFL's Super Bowl extravaganza if they'd had the foresight to invite Albert Hammond to entertain the Los Angeles crowd with his 1972 hit "It Never Rains in Southern California."  At least it would have been ironic given the weather for the Final. With fans bundled up in rain coats and sweaters, the scene on television didn't quite look like the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

The rain played a major role in slowing down the pace of the action to a moderate trot, as the players seemed more concerned with not breaking their ankles on the chunky turf than they did in running at the other team's goal. Houston spent much of the first 45 minutes "parking the bus" in the words of ESPN's Ian Darke, while LA's Adam Cristman seemed so shellshocked by the recent arrival of his baby boy that he missed no less than three clear cut opportunities to open the scoring -- the complete opposite of a hat trick, if you will.

And God help you if you played for LA and your name was not David Beckham, Landon Donovan or Robbie Keane. The cameras focused so much on the Galaxy troika that their teammates would not be blamed if they sought payment as extras from the Studio Actors Guild in Hollywood.

And the camera had rather unfortunate timing for its shot of Houston's best player, Brad Davis, who missed the Final due to injury. While Darke told the worldwide audience how 'gutted' Davis was to be missing the match, the Dynamo man let out a yawn so wide the spectators in the first row were in serious danger of being sucked into his mouth. So much for all the hoopla....

The second half was characterized by more LA misses, with Robbie Keane playing the role formerly occupied by Adam Cristman. Houston became slightly more adventurous, as well, even seeking on rare occasions to play the ball onto the Galaxy's side of the pitch.  Landon Donovan finally put the neutrals out of their misery, with a late goal that foreclosed any chance of overtime, and won the Cup 1-nil for Los Angeles.  Cue announcer pandemonium from both Ian Darke and Donovan fanboy John Harkes, as they extolled the virtues of the heretofore invisible Donovan, trotting out the inevitable references to the importance of Donovan to US Soccer, the Hollywood ending for Becks, etc.

All in all, another underwhelming final from the MLS, with Houston generating not a single shot on goal.  I'm almost to the point where I'm looking forward to Don Garber's annual halftime interview more than I am to the action on the pitch.

Almost. But I'll see you back here again next year....

This is farlieonfootie for November 22.

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