Real Salt Lake captures MLS Cup, proves penalty shootouts aren’t that cool

Real Salt Lake

Under its current system, fans got a pretty great MLS Cup last night. Although the league would have undoubtedly benefited from a Galaxy victory, the game will be talked about favorably by those who watched it. (Legitimate Galaxy fans will concede that this was an exciting final.)

While the Galaxy dominated the first half and notched a goal courtesy of Mike McGee, Real Salt Lake turned it on in the second, pounding shot after shot at the Galaxy’s backup goalkeeper Josh Saunders. With David Beckham playing on a bone-bruised ankle, the Galaxy’s offense had trouble putting the pressure on Real and containing their lead. In the 64th minute, the ball bounced off multiple players in the Galaxy’s box until Real forward Robbie Findley knocked it into the net.

Real would continue to control the remainder of regulation play and then the two 15-minute intervals of extra time. Still, the Galaxy defense somehow prevented a deciding goal. Saunders, who saw hardly any action this season over the team’s exceptional starter Donovan Ricketts, was surprisingly confident between the posts. A mid-game addition for the injured Ricketts, Saunders was up to the task.

The game entering shootouts, I realized I wanted to turn off the TV. After 120 minutes of play, a team’s entire season was about to be decided in about five minutes. Now, I wasn’t rooting for either club. I just wanted an outcome that was best for the league — suffice to say, that wasn’t Real winning. If that Galaxy won, media outlets across the globe would discuss David Beckham’s success in three professional leagues. His supporters and haters would have no choice but to include the MLS in their rants. Instead, with a Real championship, nobody would care outside of Utah.

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MLS keeps growing and growing

Photo from fOTOGLIF

The MLS Cup takes place tonight and it will likely yield the highest television ratings in the league’s history. Thankfully, the promising showdown between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake landed a beneficial time slot. Last year’s final was squeezed between the NFL’s regular season schedule on network television in the middle of the day — I doubt you remember. Since soccer seems to do well in prime time (and can’t compete with the “other” football), ESPN will broadcast the final tonight at 8:30 PM ET.

It may seem otherwise, but Major League Soccer is succeeding. This year, professional soccer came to Seattle. In the wake of the Supersonics leaving for Oklahoma City, the Seattle Sounders officially began their first season in the MLS. Like the Super Bowl, the location of the MLS Cup rotates each year. In a wise decision orchestrated by the league, today’s Cup will go down at Qwest Field, home of the Sounders. It’s quite a gift, but the city has more soccer fanatics than most and surely appreciates the gesture.

“MLS made a great decision in expanding to our region,” said King County executive Dow Constantine, the obligatory politician on hand. “Here’s a place where darn near every kid grows up playing soccer.”

Then, on Thursday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber participated in an online chat on the Seattle Times website, telling the world that all was well with MLS and would be even better in the foreseeable future.

“This season will forever be known as one of the key moments in the history of soccer in America,” Garber said during the day.

Next year, the Philadelphia Union will debut, in a brand new stadium no less. Portland and Vancouver will follow in 2011. Montreal is also on board. If all goes according to plan, the league will then contain 19 teams.

People are watching American soccer — you just don’t know them.

Once again, you can catch the MLS Cup tonight at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.

2008 Year-End Sports Review: What We Already Knew

While every year has its own host of surprises, there are always those stories that simply fit the trend. Sure, it can get repetitive, but if we don’t look back at history aren’t we only doomed to repeat it? Every year has its fair share of stories that fell into this category, and 2008 was no different.

Our list of things we already knew this year includes the BCS’ continued suckiness (Texas-Oklahoma), how teamwork wins championships (KG, Pierce and Ray-Ray), and the #1 rule for carrying a handgun into a nightclub – don’t use your sweatpants as a holster. (Come on, Plax. Really? Sweatpants?)

Don’t miss the other two parts of our 2008 Year-End Sports Review: “What We Learned” and “What We Think Might Happen.”

Brett Favre can’t make up his mind.

The biggest story of the summer was all the drama surrounding Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. This saga has been covered to death, but there’s one detail that never seemed to get that much play. At the start, it looked like the Packers were making a bad decision by moving on so quickly even when Favre decided he wanted to return. But when the news broke about Favre’s near-unretirement in March, the Packers stance became much more clear. They were ready to take him back after the owners’ meetings, but he called it off at the last minute. At that point, the Packer brass was understandably finished with Brett Favre, much to the chagrin of a good portion of the Packer faithful. – John Paulsen

The Chicago Cubs’ title drought is not a fans-only phenomenon.

The 2008 Cubs were easily the best team the franchise has assembled in decades, but they still couldn’t win a single game in the playoffs, and the reason is simple: the pressure finally got to them. Sure, they said the right things to the press about how they didn’t care about what had happened in the past, but don’t believe a word of it; there wasn’t a single person in that dugout that wasn’t fantasizing about being part of the team that finally, mercifully, ended the longest title drought in sports history. Once ESPN picked them to win it all, however, they were doomed. Ryan Dempster walked seven batters in Game 1, which matched his total for the month of September. The entire infield, including the sure-handed Derrek Lee, committed errors in Game 2. Alfonso Soriano went 1-14 with four strikeouts in the leadoff spot, while the team as a whole drew six walks and struck out 24 times. The team with so much balance in the regular season suddenly became the most one-dimensional team in baseball; take Game 1 from them, then sit back and watch them choke. And now that this group has lost six straight playoff games (the team has lost nine straight dating back to 2003), it isn’t about to get any easier. Get a helmet, Cubs fans. – David Medsker

If you’re going to wear sweatpants to a nightclub, leave the gun at home.

If winning a Super Bowl is the pinnacle of an NFL player’s career, than shooting yourself with your own gun in a nightclub has to be rock bottom. Case in point: Plaxico Antonio Burress. Just 10 months after helping the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg while at a nightclub. Apparently the (unregistered) gun was slipping down his leg and when he tried to grab it to keep it from falling, the lucky bastard wound up pulling the trigger and shooting himself. And that wasn’t the worst of it because as Plaxico found out, New York has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. He was arrested, but posted bail of $100,000 and is scheduled to return to court on March 31, 2009. If convicted of carrying a weapon without a license, he faces up to three and a half years in jail. He shouldn’t expect special treatment, either. The mayor of New York wants to be sure that Burress is prosecuted just like any other resident of NYC. The Giants, meanwhile, placed him on their reserve/non-football injury list and effectively ended his season. While “Plax” definitely deserves “Boner of the Week” consideration for his stupidity, what’s sad is that in the wake of Washington Redskins’ safety Sean Taylor’s death, most NFL players feel the need to arm themselves when they go out. Maybe players can learn from not only Taylor’s death, but also Burress’s accident so further incidents can be avoided. – Anthony Stalter

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