While it isn't going to remind anyone of Super Bowl week, ESPN has started a fairly substantial promotional campaign leading up to Sunday's MLS Cup game, with loud,
splashy, quick-cutting spots flickering across flat panels in bars, lounges and airports even as we (figuratively) speak.
Of course one of the featured elements is advertising the appearance of David Beckham, which is hardly surprising, since using Chris Wingert as the marquee attraction isn't likely to set the viewing meters ablaze.
(Speaking of which, have you seen the re-cut of the famous California tourism ads
where Hollywood types make puns about "working" in the Golden State? You know, the ones that end with the shot of Maria Shrivers' heavily botoxed "I'm a Kennedy" puss and then pan over to Arnold, looking frighteningly cadaverous, saying "When can you start?"? Those spots are now back in rotation, edited to include David Beckham kicking a ball into the ocean and saying "…but somebody's got to do it". Just too bad this whole Beckham thing is such a dismal failure, eh?)
Regarding the game itself, make all the sneering remarks you want about Don Garber wearing out a rug this week praying for a photo of Beckham and Donovan jointly holding up the Anschutz Trophy, looks of joy and brotherhood radiating from their faces as the tightly controlled confetti release showers them with glitter and the love of a grateful nation, but the reason he surely would like to see that shot is because it would be good for MLS as a whole.
Don't begrudge the man a desire to see the league get the maximum possible amount of positive worldwide publicity from its' championship game and then tell me you're a fan, because that's rubbish. A similar photo of Jameson Olave and Nat Borchers holding up the selfsame cup in victory won't make page D-7 of the Selma Weekly Kluxer, while the Beckham shot will be on the front page of 5000 newspapers and websites worldwide within an hour of it hitting the AFP wire.
This is a damn business, people. Everyone keeps saying they understand that and then
get pissed off when they see evidence of it.
Which is not to say that I'm personally hoping for a Galaxy victory. LA isn't a town an outsider can easily feel much love for. They're way too smug and arrogant (and that's just their coach) and the city as a whole needs something else to remind them of how much better they are than the rest of us like Toronto needs another drunk.
On the other hand, Salt Lake is the little engine that could. They get the benefit of the Underdog Love that's so deeply ingrained in all of us.
One problem they do have, judging by recent games, is a shocking – even by soccer standards – lack of respect for the officials. Was there one single whistle or flag against them anytime during that whole 120 minute match with Chicago where four, five or six of them weren't immediately in Salazars' face, screaming, gesturing, hollering, jumping up and down and generally acting like howler monkeys on meth?
Calls that were so obvious, routine and harmless that your average crowd of U12 parents wouldn't have bothered opening their mouths (and they don't shut up for anything, ever) drew shrieks of hysteria from the half the white-clad players on the field.
Someday, USSF is going to have to grow a pair and start punishing this kind of behavior. Gripe all you want about "diving" ruining the game, but in the US athletes don't congregate around the officials and scream in their faces. Whether they admit it or not, everybody understands trying to influence a call, but behavior like that just turns everyone off.
You want to help advance respect for soccer here? Start by demanding that the players show some class.
It was, frankly, an embarrassment, and if that's how they intend to behave in the MLS Championship match in prime time, with an actual TV audience, it's gonna be hard to gin up much enthusiasm for them, regardless of how annoying the LA Show Ponies may be.
So for a fan with no particular emotional involvement with either team, but an abiding interest in Major League Soccer as a whole, I guess we should root for LA to win and the Royals to act polite about it.