LOS ANGELES -- It's a question worth posing: If the Los Angeles Galaxy win Sunday's MLS Cup final (
You could certainly make the case. With 67 points from 34 games, L.A. (1.97 points per game) had the third-best regular season in league history if we measure by ppg.
(To make it an apples-to-apples comparison, I went back to the years of the shootout, 1996-99, and gave teams one point for every game that was tied after 90 minutes.)
One argument against the Galaxy would be that it hasn't exactly blown teams away this year. L.A.'s plus-20 regular-season goal differential was only tied for ninth-best in MLS history and far behind the '98 Galaxy (plus-41) and '98 D.C. United (plus-30). In fact, that '98 United team could make its own argument for best in league history. Although it fell to Chicago in the MLS Cup final, D.C. did win the CONCACAF Champions Cup and beat South American champion Vasco da Gama in that year's Inter-American Cup.
How seriously should we take the Inter-American Cup? Hard to say. It was an impressive accomplishment on paper, and I can remember then-MLS Commissioner Doug Logan sitting on the couch of SI's soccer editor and telling him that SI "blew it" by not making a big deal of D.C.'s win. Then again, the Inter-American Cup has never been awarded since. (I guess you could say D.C. United is still the reigning champion.)
In any case, I recently asked Bruce Arena to compare the '11 Galaxy and '98 United teams, not least because he has been the coach of both.
"For me, [D.C.'s] Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno in their prime were as good as any two payers in the history of this league," Arena told me. "You could draw the comparison that [Landon] Donovan and [David] Beckham are like that. I think in the goal we're better than any of the D.C. United teams. In the forward positions, Moreno was different: We don't have a forward of that ability. Our back lines were good. D.C. United's was pretty good with Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos and Carlos Llamosa. They're kind of comparable. In the midfield, it depends on where Landon is, but the midfields of D.C. United were pretty good."
"It's close. The league was different then too, you know."
Is the league better now than in the late '90s?
"I think the American player is much better," Arena said. "I don't think we have the foreign players like the [Carlos] Valderramas and Etcheverrys, but we have a lot of very good international players now. The league's getting younger. Overall it's better. We're playing for the most part on soccer fields, which is better than in the beginning. We have to maybe kind of stay away from as many artificial fields, but the stadiums are being built, there's good support."
"At the commercial end it's getting better. NBC is going to be a real shot in the arm for the league. The refereeing is getting better. It still has to get better. We have to do a better job of scheduling, because it's difficult to do what we're doing with these different competitions. Our rosters are going to have to get better. There's a lot of challenges and it's going to take time, but we're headed in the right direction. When this league gets to 20 teams it'll be pretty impressive."
My take: You play to win the game. If the Galaxy wins on Sunday, it deserves to call itself the best team in MLS history. No team would have combined L.A.'s success in the regular season and playoffs.