Keep the faith: MLS' conference finalists a worthy, intriguing bunch
Faith in oneself is a constant battle.
For example, at the beginning of the MLS season, I predicted Real Salt Lake would finish second in the Western Conference and that the New York Red Bulls would win the East. Neither came true, so I flagellated myself over my previously bold, but now moronic, prognostications.
I came close with RSL, which finished third in the West, but the team gave me a heart attack along the way.
As for New York, I spent weeks in the middle of the season wondering what brain failure made me ever think the Red Bulls were worthy of being in MLS, let alone in the playoffs.
Even last week, after the first legs of their playoff series, I was convinced that neither of these teams had the necessary gumption, steel, tactical awareness and, let's be honest, luck to ensure their passage into the conference finals. (At what point will MLS drop all this conference final bunk during the playoffs? Please,
But today, I must apologize to both of these teams for my lack of faith. I failed them. I doubted them. Last weekend they earned impressive results and proved beyond any doubt that they are worthy. RSL's gutsy, attack-minded 2-2 draw at Chivas USA earned it a 3-2 series win on aggregate. New York's 3-0 thumping of two-time defending MLS champion Houston -- in H-Town, by the way -- showed the threat of flank speed and the blessings of a hot goalkeeper.
These two simply belong in the conference finals. Neither has ever reached an MLS Cup final, so when they face off Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium (Does this venue have a nickname yet? "The Mine?"), both will be fighting for history.
Houston's bid to make history by winning a third straight MLS Cup, meanwhile, was ended decisively. The mighty juggernaut looked as tame as a pack of orange tabby cats during the second-leg loss to New York. I, for one, am glad the Dynamo lost.
Nothing personal against Houston, its players or its brilliant coach,
So why am I tickled that the Dynamo have been eliminated? Because the league needed someone new to take the crown.
MLS needed someone nasty to reach the final. Someone who sparks the international imagination. Someone who ticks off opposing fans, while thrilling them at the same time. Unfortunately, Houston's steadiness, intricate mix of talents and downright niceness fails to stir the emotional pot. If sports is a story, then every league needs its antagonist, someone you despise and root again.
You can't really root against the Dynamo, ever, because they are skillful, composed and methodical. At times this season, they seemed
This is great for the purists. But history has no love affair with purity. Perfection is boring. We like nasty. Especially in the sports world.
Think about the greatest matchups of all time and who we rooted for? Colts-Jets?
All four surviving teams bristle with nastiness (and three of them have the bonus of international intrigue). It starts, of course, with Chicago's
Then again, maybe I should cross my fingers in hopes of seeing Columbus'
New York, of course, is blessed with the second-best striker in MLS history. (
For RSL, the centrifuge is
Is it a coincidence that the four centerpieces of this week's conference finals are Latino? I think not. (
Now let's hope the conference finals live up to the billing. I'm going to keep the faith this time.