The 12th season of Major League Soccer was the most anticipated since the league’s inaugural year in 1996. The league added a franchise in Toronto and created the “Designated Player Rule,” allowing each team to sign up to two new players for more money than allowed by the league salary cap. The new rule helped bring in world-wide superstars Juan Pablo Angel, Claudio Reyna, Cuauhteacute;moc Blanco and, of course, David Beckham, a player as popular off the field as he is on it.
Although he was injured for a majority of the season, American soccer still felt Beckham’s impact. The MLS set a record for attendance in 2007, and the Los Angeles Galaxy, the team that signed the supserstar, led the league in crowd turnout both at home and away, as fans from across the country poured into local stadiums to get a chance to admire him, whether he actually played or not.
Not to mention that his debut with the Galaxy, an exhibition match against English super-power Chelsea, was aired on ESPN with a viewing audience five times higher than that of a normal MLS match, even though Beckham played only 16 minutes.
After all the hype, however, there is only one game left: the MLS Cup game. The final, set for Sunday, features none of the designated players, instead pitting the New England Revolution against the Houston Dynamo, two of the most successful franchises in league history. The game is a rematch from last year’s final, which saw the Dynamo beat the Revolution in a penalty kick shootout.
Houston looks to become only the second team in league history to win back-to-back titles, matching the feat set by D.C. United in the first two seasons of the league. The team struggled at the beginning of the season, but gathered enough strength to make the playoffs. Experience is key for Houston. Led by former MVP Dwayne De Rosario, nine current players are back from last year’s championship roster, and six players have returned from the 2003 Cup team, which was based in San Jose before the franchise’s move to Houston.
The Revolution are in the thick of the Boston sports scene, and fans hope they can do no wrong. This is the Revolution’s third straight trip to the title game and fourth overall, but they have been consistently unsuccessful in the final.
This year, the team struggled down the stretch, unable to win in its final three games but still making the playoffs. Striker Taylor Twellman has put the team on his back, netting the lone goal in the first-round series against Red Bull New York and scoring the game-winner in the Eastern Conference Championship against the Chicago Fire with a sensational bicycle kick.
The match-up will be a great ending to a season of vast improvements in American soccer, but would the league, and its finances, have been better off if Beckham and his Galaxy were in the finals? He may have attracted the attention of the most casual fans, who may have hopefully become more intrigued with the game.
It would’ve been a nice Hollywood ending, but Hollywood’s own couldn’t help make it come true. The major leagues are stuck hoping that a well-played match between two talented clubs will be enough to bring in a big audience and ensure a spot for American soccer in the future.