Sunday, November 22, 2009

MLS Cup 2009

Before the start of the game, I wasn't sure who to support. The 3 big galaxians (Arena, Beckham, and Donvan) have all won loads already. Plus, Becks is a bit of a muppet with an awful haircut. RSL is the 8 seed, a plucky side with a white, neo-Rastafarian captain, an ex-Galaxian forward, and a young manager. However, as a USMNT fan looking forward to the World Cup, it has become clear that Landon Donovan is the best US player, and I wouldn't mind seeing him do something fantastic to win it.

As soon as I started to think that I didn't like the neutral site, the fans began a deafening "Sound-ers" chant. It made it feel slightly less sterile than a Super Bowl. While the Seattle fans are great, they don't have a true rooting interest. Home and home has to be a better option if MLS fans will not travel for the Cup final.

The other major problem with the game being held in Seattle is the field turf. It is an awful surface for soccer. Players were falling, the ball acted more like a ping pong ball, and both teams passing was off.

The game started pretty sloppy with neither team looking like they had trained on the artificial surface. Other than Clint Mathis coming on for the injured (and crying) Javier Morales, there wasn't much to report until the Galaxy's fantastic first goal. Beckham led Donovan well, and Landon played an inch perfect pass to Magee to tap in on the left side of the goal.

Salt Lake had to put Ned Gravaboy (best name in MLS) on for Will Johnson to begin the second half. Both sides got their sea legs in the second half, and the play on the field increased significantly. Robbie Findley got clear on the right and came in hard as Donovan Ricketts came out to challenge him. The two came together in a collision that initially appeared to hurt both players equally. However, it became apparent that Ricketts' right hand got the worst of it. Minutes after play restarted, Findley slotted home Real's equalizer.

Ricketts had to go to ground once before Findley's goal, and it appeared that he had a hard time using his right hand to help himself back up. He also didn't fully extend his arm in his attempt to save Findley's shot, and wisely pulled himself off after giving up the game tying goal.

For as much as the first half was relatively bad to watch, the second half offered a great deal of excitement for the American soccer fan. It wasn't a particularly well played half, but between the collision, injuries, and the game tying goal, there was enough drama for even a non-devotee.

Each team had a few chances at the end of regular time, but neither could convert. As the extra 30 minutes went on, it was clear that these players were not in shape to run as much as they had earlier. The field turf had to play a part in their fatigue.

When the match went to penalties, Real was the favorite. While L.A. had fantastic attacking players in Beckham, Donovan and Buddle, Salt Lake had Nick Rimando. One week ago, Rimando's work in penalties in Chicago got RSL to the MLS Cup final.

Each team began by converting their first two penalties. Then each side missed their next attempt before Landon Donovan Roberto Baggio'd his shot over the crossbar, to leave Salt Lake with the advantage. They would lose it shortly thereafter when Andrew Williams' meek attempt fell right to Josh Saunders. In the seventh round Edson Buddle's shot was saved by Rimando, and Robbie Russell converted to give Real their first MLS Cup.

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