With all due respect to MLS’ best team the Columbus Crew who can essentially clinch the supporters shield on Saturday in Foxborough, and the two time defending champions Houston Dynamo, the biggest night in the MLS season at least from a public relations and TV perspective could be tonight. That’s because the two highest profile and highest paid players in MLS will start a match against one another for the first time in league history. I may add with rumors intensifying that Cuauhtemoc Blanco may be headed back to the FMF either on loan or outright sale, this could prove to be a one shot deal for the league.
Last season the two teams met in the final game of the MLS Regular Season. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park with the winner claiming a spot in the playoffs and the loser being eliminated. Telefutura garnered their highest audience for an MLS game in 2007 that afternoon. Our greatest memory of the game is John Thorrington’s wonder goal coming after David Beckham (who had been subbed in late as he was still recovering from injury) gave the ball away. The photo above was taken by the AP after Thorrington’s goal.
But tonight, Beckham and Blanco will face off as well Landon Donovan and Brian McBride. The later pair had many showdowns when the Quakes would play the Crew between 2001 and 2003 (well maybe. It seemed like McBride was always hurt his last few years in Columbus.), but do have their respective followings. The game tonight is going to be played in front of a national TV audience on the ESPN family of networks in prime time. No doubt ESPN will go the extra mile, like including Pedro Gomes on the sideline to interview Blanco, and probably Allan Hopkins to cover the Galaxy angle.
This is a big game and a big ratings test for MLS. If the game finds itself on in more homes that expected, the drawing power to MLS of the league’s biggest signings since the inagural 1996 foreign player class will be justified. If the game gets a typical poor MLS Thursday Night rating, than the league has to seriously think about future DP spending. With foreign signings like Guille Barros Schelotto and Jorge Rojas trumping both Beckham and Blanco’s impact on the pitch, and producing better football overall in the league, does the league really need to overspend on high profile foreign players? We’ll get a partial answer tonight.