Greg Lalas
Monday November 12th, 2007

On Sunday, I received this text message from an SI.com soccer editor who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty: "MLS Cup. Yawn."

On the surface, I realize the casual sports fan might think an MLS Cup final devoid of someone with the last name of Blanco or Beckham -- is Brooklyn or Romeo fit? -- is a good remedy for insomnia. And to the suits at MLS HQ, it certainly represents their deepest, darkest fear: low ratings. (Gasp!)

But then I reminded the soccer editor that he is not your everyday SportsCentered lemming. Nor is he a suit. So no yawning allowed. Houston-New England is going to be an MLS Cup for the ages.

Not only are rematches almost always thrilling encounters -- Ali-Frazier anyone? -- but this one also presents an intriguing clash of styles, a contest of philosophical differences about how the game should be played, with the result determining the MLS Cup champion.

So, are you a Houstonian or a New Englander?

Sports freaks, like normal people, generally fall into one of two camps: the artist or the scientist. Some of us embrace the daring, romantic hero, like a Namath or a McEnroe, while others prefer the efficient, lethal assassin, like Unitas or Lendl. Not that we can't appreciate and respect the strengths of the other side, but something in our DNA simply pulls our sympathies one way or the other.

It's what I call the Vision Quest-ion. Do you believe Louden Swain could beat Shooter or not? How you answer this question determines what type of fan you are: If you're with the artists, you say, "Definitely. Louden's passionate, bloody verve could overcome Shooter's superior strength and technique." If you're with the scientists, you say, "Get off the drugs."

In this MLS Cup, the Loudens are with Houston. The Dynamo are efficient, no doubt, but they play with an attacking abandon that will stir your heart. Dwayne De Rosario, Brad Davis and Brian Mullen are all midfield dogfighters who thrill at taking players on and attempting the audacious. Case in point.

The back line, led by center back Eddie Robinson and captain Wade Barrett, leads with their hearts, not their heads. The Dynamo had a league-low goals-against average (.77) during the regular season, but Robinson also led the league in yellow cards with 11.

By comparison, the Revolution's back line committed six fewer fouls in the regular season than Robinson had yellow cards. It's emblematic of Steve Nicol's team. The Revolution go about their business with the cool precision of a team of Shooters. (Except for Khano Smith, of course, who plays role of the wacky friend.) Since talismanic Clint Dempsey left for Fulham, the Revs have lacked the funky alchemist who can create something out of nothing. Now they rely on rhythm, efficiency and a deadly ability to breakdown the opponent.

Steve Ralston, Shalrie Joseph and Michael Parkhurst provide a spine that so rarely makes mistakes, you feel like you're watching drones. Up top, Taylor Twellman is the most calculating scorer the league has ever seen -- his bicycle-kick goal last week notwithstanding. Some people have called the Revs boring, while others call them efficient. I'd say they're probably both.

Ultimately, this year's MLS Cup final is a right-brain-vs.-left-brain scenario. Nicol's Revolution will play it close to the vest, looking to slow down the game, stifling Houston's spirited, orange-clad midfield flow before methodically, surgically orchestrating a goal of their own. Conversely, the Dynamo will look to unleash their high-pressure, freestyle circus.

Both these teams are deserving. Depending on what kind of person you are, you'll think one is more deserving that the other.

"And I guess that's why we got to love those people who deserve it like there's no tomorrow," Louden Swain says in Vision Quest. "'Cause when you get right down to it -- there isn't."

For me, I love the Revolution -- after all, I played for them -- but in this one, I think Louden will get the pin.

Referee Jair Marrufo was rightly praised 10 days ago when he courageously called off Christian Gómez's winning goal for D.C. United against the Chicago Fire for a handball. But on Saturday night, he undid all that. After Houston's Nate Jaqua slammed a vicious forearm shiver into Jack Jewsbury's head, Marrufo showed the big Houston attacker a yellow card.

It was a gutless decision, and I find it hard to believe that none of the referees on the field at the time saw the play sufficiently to advise a straight red.

Now, predictably, the league will claim it cannot punish the player. It'll claim it would undermine the referee's authority. That's bull, and everyone knows it. TV technology allows for retrospection in cases like this. It lets us right certain wrongs. The league can and should try to rectify blatant errors like this whenever possible.

That's why I am calling on MLS officials to suspend Jaqua for the MLS Cup final. His blow was deliberate, violent, and uncalled for. It deserves to be punished.

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