HOUSTON - JULY 16: Jimmy Nielsen: creepy yet effective (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
With the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs down to the final four teams, I think there's a lot of debate over which team should neutrals root for. Obviously, Chivas USA are not in the mix this season, so although fans will not cheer in the same passionate manner as they would for the Goats, which team is most deserving of fans' sympathies? Let's do a pro and con breakdown of each team, going from easiest to root for to impossible to root for. You can probably guess where I'm going here, but just follow along and see if you agree.
Continued after the jumpSporting Kansas City:
Rootability Index: 80/100
Pros: The Sporks transformed their squad, their name, and eventually, their stadium, and look what a difference it made for them! Boasting the highest number of attacking talent in the league, with Omar Bravo, Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara, CJ Sapong, and Soony Saad all chipping in and contributing regularly. Added to that is midfield maestro Graham Zusi, who energized to life after slumping through the early part of the season, and MLS All-star defender Matt Besler, who it was believed benefited from a computer program that made him an all-star. However, he has been MLS' equivalent of Rory Delap, flinging throw-ins into great positions to set up the forwards, and being a terrific two-way defender, making his all-star selection actually pretty warranted in the end. Plus, KC have a beautiful new stadium, and made it a fortress. They are hosting the Eastern Conference Final, which bodes well for their chances. Finally, they can lose concentration at times and are apt to play some crazy games, which is a dream for neutral observers who prefer entertainment.
Cons: Their inconsistency can be maddening, and believe it or not, they may be entering the final four a year too early in their development. Also, their goalkeeper, Jimmy Nielsen, has been quite good, but he can sure be creepy. Also, if you had any Sporting forwards on your fantasy team this season, chances were that they were benched the weeks you played them and other forwards on the team would score in bunches.
Rootability Index: 63/100
Pros: RSL have been one of the exemplary clubs the past few years, ever since they surprised the Galaxy in the 2009 MLS Cup final, prevailing in penalties. From there, they went on an unprecedented run in the CONCACAF Champions League, meeting Monterrey in the final before ultimately coming up short this spring. Still, their combination of picking good players on a pretty tight budget is admirable, including Argentinians Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola and Costa Rican Alvaro Saborio. Coach Jason Kreis is probably the brightest young American coach around, and Chivas head coach Robin Fraser and assistant coach Greg Vanney served under him before coming to Carson.
Cons: Some RSL fans got carried away when Marcos Mondaini broke Javier Morales' ankle early in the season. Believe me, I'm not defending the stupid tackle by Mondaini, but some fans got pretty delusional about the whole incident. In fact, while I know some RSL fans who are pleasant people, I think RSL fans do an awful lot of bellyaching for the position they are in. Sorry, but folks like players who don't always whine - fans should be held to a similar standard.
Rootability Index: 55/100
Pros: This is the "average joes" team left in the playoffs. Nobody on the team is a superstar per se. Tally Hall has been yet another unsung goalkeeper this season, something that fans of Dan Kennedy will understand. Brian Ching had a very good performance in the Conference semifinal series against Colorado, and while his best days are long gone, he can still contribute from time to time. But the star of the team is definitely Brad Davis, who had a career year and is a bonafide MVP candidate. He has been called the "left-footed Beckham," which is meant as a compliment but I think it's an insult, considering he's a good player who doesn't have a global brand. Houston will never wow you, but they play effective soccer, and there's something to be said for that. Plus, their fans have tasted enough failure to not be arrogant about their team's success.
Cons: Besides the Galaxy, this is the team most capable of playing really boring soccer for long stretches. The difference is that the moments of flair and creativity for Houston and much fewer and farther between. The Dynamo did not think they had a shot whatsoever of making it to the playoffs after Chivas beat them 3-0 this season, but the two clubs' fortunes completely switched after that. Despite the playoff success, this is by far the most anonymous team left in the playoffs this season.
Rootability Index: 5/100
Pros: No matter how you may feel about the Galaxy, you cannot deny this: they have had one of, if not the best regular season in MLS history. They seem destined for MLS Cup this season - it seems inevitable. Sadly inevitable, for many, but still. Some of you may wonder why I even gave them a rootability score of 5. I agree, it's controversial, but a win by the Galaxy this season may result in greater exposure for the league, and bring more quality players in the future.
Cons: The Galaxy are that toxic combination of arrogant and paranoid. When they fail to score until the 80th minute, the sky is falling, but once they score, the trash is talked in quantities seldom seen before. A Supporters Shield/MLS Cup sweep this season will be pretty insufferable to listen to for the rest of time. Galaxy fans are often not very nice about Chivas, to put it kindly, so why would you want to root for them under any circumstances? And while they have some very talented players who can show moments of brillance, Bruce Arena shuts the attack down anytime the Galaxy are ahead by a goal. If that happens in the first minute, so be it. The rest of the match will be totally boring to watch. Finally, two words: David Beckham. Ugh.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!