By Jeff Kassouf
It had everything you could ask for and nothing you could complain about (well, except maybe the referees). It, Major League Soccer’s final regular season weekend, proved to be the best in years, with exactly what the big-wigs in the league office have been stressing for quite some time now: meaningfulness of games.
Recent years have produced plenty of games in the final weekends that have meant absolutely nothing to the playoff picture. In fact, in 2003 the genius schedule makers pitted Los Angeles against San Jose in both teams’ final two games – two games that meant very little as both teams were already in the playoffs and most likely locked into their seeding.
Only problem being, they were locked in to play each other in the Western Conference Semifinals home-and-home series. So, they played each other twice to end the regular season and then twice in the playoffs immediately afterward.
Fast-forward four years and one finds his or her self on an entirely different planet. Thursday night started the weekend off early, with the Galaxy needing at least a point against New York to keep their playoff hopes alive. A point is exactly what they got, making the rest of the weekend even more interesting.
With their win against FC Dallas, Kansas City snuck into the playoffs with 40 points. So, the attention then shifted to the Rocky Mountain Cup game that was overlapping the Kansas City game, where Colorado needed to beat Real Salt Lake to have any chance at making the playoffs.
Fittingly enough, Real Salt Lake beat Colorado on a goal from ex-Galaxy striker Robbie Findley, meaning that Los Angeles’ game against Chicago on Sunday meant everything. What more could Major League Soccer ask for? One game, on the final day of the season, pitting Blanco and Beckham against each other to fight for one playoff spot – in other words, drama at it’s finest.
A tie would do the Galaxy no good, and in pressing on for the win they found themselves exposed at the back several times, only to be saved by spectacular goalkeeping from Joe Cannon. Los Angeles produced several good chances in the second half, and was even arguably snubbed of a penalty kick on multiple occasions.
However, the Fire’s John Thorrington provided the dagger to LA’s dreams, chipping the seemingly iron wall that was Joe Cannon in the third minute of second half stoppage time to end the Galaxy’s seven game unbeaten streak and miraculous attempt at making the playoffs. Coincidentally enough, the entire sequence was started by an errant back pass from David Beckham, who entered the game in the 58th minute.
Regardless of affiliation, there is nothing more than a fan or MLS executive can hope for then to have the final game of the season be so pivotal. Four teams entered Saturday fighting for two playoff spots, making every fixture captivating.
Even more impressive were the crowds that showed up for the final weekend of action in Dallas, D.C., Chicago, and even Toronto, who had nothing to play for. The only real problem was the Telefutura situation, the television station with exclusive rights to Sunday’s LA-Chicago game. The league can’t have such a massively important game being broadcast on a single Spanish speaking station that isn’t even offered in several markets, but that is a another story.
What this final weekend of the regular season proved for Major League Soccer was one thing: parity rules. Anyone who is sitting at home and still thinking that there should be a couple of teams that run away with the Supporter’s Shield and then “everyone else,” has lost their mind.
Four teams fighting for two playoff spots on the final two days of the season is exactly what this league needs. Maybe the super-clubs running away with titles year-in and year-out works in some European leagues, but the parity that Major League Soccer is known for is working quite well as is.
Quick Facts: Beckham is making $6.5 million this season and Blanco is making $2.7 million. Thorrington, the game winning scorer, was waived by the Fire in March, and trained with LA Galaxy in pre-season. He signed with the Fire just last month. Thorrington was also once a reserve with Manchester United when Beckham was the teams star.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org