MLS Wrap Up: the MLS Cup Final - I wasn't too far off, predicting the Houston Dynamo would be a 2-1 winner. The Dynamo nearly lost this one, falling behind 1-0 on a Taylor Twellman overtime goal, set up by a fantastic powerful run and pass by MLS playoffs revelation, Khano Smith. The Dynamo struck back, though, less than a minute later, as Brian Ching got his head on the end of a nice cross, and beat the New England Revolution keeper, Matt Reis.
Going into the penalty kicks (the first time the MLS Cup was to be decided by a shootout), one had to think the Revs had the advantage, with the long-armed Reis in goal. But, a miss by Pat Noonan left the Revolution on the brink. Down 4-3, Jay Heaps stepped to the penalty spot, trying to keep the Revs' hopes alive. Heaps struck the ball terribly and indecisively -- with no power and very much within Pat Onstad's reach -- and the championship belonged to Houston...the third title for the franchise, but a first for Houston, as the franchise was in its first year there.
So, the Revolution are starting to look like the Minnesota Vikings of the MLS. They've been to the MLS Cup Final dance three times and come out the loser each time. On a more positive note, the Denver Broncos used to be a latter-day version of the Vikings, having lost four Super Bowls, as well. But, the Broncos did break through, before John Elway retired, winning a couple of championships.
The Revolution might have to retool a bit, if they want to get back to this position. There's a good chance that two of their best players, Shalrie Joseph and Clint Dempsey, will make the jump to Europe. On the other hand, it seems the Revs have a replacement ready for Joseph, in super-sub Khano Smith. The Revolution substitute is very big and very fast -- for his effort, Smith should get most of the credit for Twellman's go-ahead goal. Smith had a similar run late against United, and just missed scoring on that play, with his powerful drive just over the crossbar.
Ching gets the big goal in this game, and he gets the Goal of the Year award, for his game-winning bicycle shot against D.C United. I wrote that night that Ching's goal was arguably the finest in league history, so I can't quibble with the selection. I voted for Christian Gomez' effort in week 11, because he had to beat several defenders, while Ching was strangely unmarked when he struck his award-winner.
On other matters, I was very pleased by the half-time interview with MLS Commissioner Don Garber. With the questions and Garber's answers, it was clear that the MLS will make it a high priority to place a team in New York City, as soon as 2010. I've already written that I think this the direction the league needs to go in -- in fact, I asked about this possibility in an email online chat with the Commissioner earlier in the week.
Having two teams in the New York region will be good for each team. Ultimately, it will help the league, as it will increase the visibility in New York, and double the chances of a championship for a New York-area team. The history of the NASL shows the value of a winner in New York. The difference will be in the MLS' ability to sustain the interest that might generate.
Along those lines, the MLS has announced that each team will be allowed to sign one star player without impacting the salary cap. Having the money for one top, international-level player isn't ideal, but it is better than none. It means that the league could attract stars like David Beckham, who are interested in playing in America, but need to see the money. It might also be helpful in enticing some aging Americans, like Brian McBride to return to our shores while they still have some productive years ahead of them. It's a good start, and the decision to crack open the pocketbook is a welcome signal that the MLS is more confident in the future economic health of the league.
That leaves a few questions for the off-season: What to do about the Kansas City Wizards? Who will coach D.C. United? Will Freddy Adu return for a full season? And, who will MLS be able to attract with the salary cap exception slots? Someone needs to start the ball rolling? Will it be Becks? Maybe Zidane? Ahhhh -- the speculation will be half the fun.