Before the season, I picked Real Salt Lake to win the Western Conference and play in MLS Cup. Along with DuNord’s Bruce McGuire and a few other bloggers who made this prediction, I looked worse and worse as the MLS Regular Season wore on. My projection of RSL to win the West was based on the squad of players available, quality of goalkeeper and the depth the team has.
Yet with two weekend left in the MLS Regular Season, the Utah based club had the fourth worst record in MLS. Were RSL a European or Mexican club, they’d have been facing a relegation battle. Yet, they won MLS Cup, and deservingly so based on the balance of play in the postseason.
The reason I liked RSL so much in the preseason was on display last night. Great possession midfield play from Kyle Beckerman, the feel good story of MLS lifer Andy Williams, and the outstanding goalkeeping of Nicky Rimando.
Javi Morales injury could have been fatal to a side with less depth. But Garth Lagerway and Jason Kreis have painstakingly built a deep, athletic team which has the right mix of veteran savvy and youthful exuberance.
But does RSL’s playoff run make MLS look silly? I don’t believe so, but have to respect the opinions of those who do. Additionally, while Seattle is a great football city, playing the title game on rubber/plastic to me really took away from the game. Again, we can respectfully disagree on this, but my view on artificial surfaces is clear, and if MLS truly had the banner 2009 Commissioner Don Garber claimed, the least he could do for his players was the allow them to play the league’s showcase game on a natural surface- be that in Seattle with sod laid over the turf, or elsewhere.
I’ve read some message board postings in the last few days that bother me greatly. They’ve been written MLS supporters saying that the success of Seattle and Toronto means that Joey Saputo and Montreal can take a hike. Soccer United Marketing has done a great job of creating a Montreal Impact club, that has its own stadium with a NATURAL pitch, sells out almost every match despite being in a second division, nearly filled up a 60,000 seat stadium for CONCACAF play and has brought River Plate and Bordeaux (the French Champion who currently leads its UEFA Champions League group) to Stade Saputo this summer. Oh and Montreal is the most savvy soccer/football city in North America. Sorry Toronto, and Seattle, Montreal did not need MLS gimmicks to be relevant. In the soccer savvy category, new MLS entrant and current USL city Portland would come second.
I actually believe MLS needs Montreal, both the market and owner, Joey Saputo than either needs MLS. Until MLS grabs Montreal it is an incomplete North American league whose map omits the obvious location for a successful football club in this part of the world.
My beloved Miami Fusion lived on with the MLS Cup triumphs of former Fusion players Kyle Beckerman, Andy Williams, Nick Rimando, Jeff Cassar (RSL assistant) and Garth Lagerway (RSL GM). Additionally, Robin Fraser is an FIU graduate and grew up in south Florida. Los Angeles goalkeeper Josh Saunders spent last season with Miami FC, but I must admit he appears to be a more decisive and confident keeper in LA than he ever was in Miami.
This weekend’s press reflected a love fest with Major League Soccer. But for another perspective on the league, please read this Yanks Abroad piece with USMNT second all time leading scorer Eric Wynalda.Waldo knows the sport in this country and many of the concerns he voices about MLS have been echoed by me (and have gotten me the label as being a hater by some readers), but need to resolved if this league is ever going to move forward positively in a real manner, not just the somewhat superficial steps that the Commissioner and some in the soccer press keep promoting.
Another good reas is Reuters Simon Evans look at MLS’ upcoming challenges