Carnival of Soccer 5: MLS Thru Its "Barkers"

The topic for Carnival of Soccer 5 is a discussion of the personality of MLS teams, either the one you support or all the others. Potentially, this is a massive topic, which raises the issue of how to size it up for skinning. Just for yucks, I’m opting explain each of Major League Soccer’s 12 active teams (my apologies to the now-defunct Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny) using a player, past or present, from that team - these would be the "barkers," as in carnival barkers, of the title; on top of that, I’ll also tag or tar each team with one word or phrase. And, where I can’t resist the urge, I’ll throw in more random crap where it applies.

Chicago Fire
Player: C. J. Brown
Word: Devious
Sure, it’s Peter Nowak’s shirt that hangs in state in Toyota Park, but Brown better fits Chicago’s character because he speaks to the team’s grit and guile. As Chicago evolved out of the 1998-2000 era, they became less about star players and more about smart, “good enough” players like Brown. I don’t know that he’s the dirtiest player in MLS, but he’s among the league’s most effective dirty players, an absolute master of making opposition players go bat-shit crazy and self-destruct. It’s that kind of mind-set that keeps Chicago in the thick of it season after season.

Chivas USA
Player: Luis Hernandez
Word: Chastened
Yeah, he never played for Chivas USA, but Luis Hernandez is emblematic of the first year “Chivas mentality” – e.g. the idea that even Mexican B-Teamers could own MLS. We all know how that went. Chivas have since figured out that this will not work – not today, not tomorrow, or ever. For their sake, let’s hope they move into the future as they have so far, by signing quality veterans, like Ante Razov, and bright youngsters like John Bornstein. There’s still time for this identity to take root and the trends are good: since an ugly year one, they’ve blossomed into one of the most enjoyable teams in MLS to watch.

Colorado Rapids
Player: Pablo Mastroeni
Word: Spoiler
I passed on players like Chris Henderson, Paul Bravo (whom I barely remember), Marcelo Balboa, and Jean-Phillipe Peguero (who would have been a fine choice, but for completely different reasons), and settled on Mastroeni for one simple reason: when I think of the Rapids at all, it’s as a team that can’t score for shit and is boring as paint drying, grass growing, and old people running, to watch. Put another way, they’re kind of classically American in that they’ve got defending down pretty well (this season, with its series of 4-1 and 5-2 blow-outs excepted), but they only seem to score goals by accident. In the end, Mastroeni is a great stand-in for the team because he can destroy brilliantly, but he’s not so hot going forward.

Columbus Crew
Player: Brian Maissoneuve
Word: Hapless
Yeah, Brian McBride would be the easy call, but he’s something the Crew has never been: successful. As well as Maisonneuve played on any given day, he seemed to spend more days nursing busted joints. And so it goes with all of the Crew’s Great White Hopes: Kyle Martino – nope; Ross Paule – nope; Sebastian Rozenthal – nope. NOTE: At the risk of offending more sensitive readers, I’m about to embark on what could be misinterpreted as “gay bashing.” Rest assured that what follows bears no more hostility toward homosexuals than a Gay Pride parade. Columbus, “America’s Hardest Working Team,” has always struck me as one of the league’s “gayest” teams. It’s not so much the yellow jerseys as it’s the three guys in hard hats on the crest who seem to be ogling passers-by. And there’s just something about the way they’re standing that gives the impression they’re ogling men. And, to be totally honest, that’s completely endearing. It’s just so unintentionally Village People.

DC United
Player: Raul Diaz Arce
Word: Fortunate Son
Yes, there’s Jaime Moreno, yes, there’s Marco Etcheverry – hell, there’s even “Rocket” Roy Lassiter, Ryan Nelsen, John Harkes, Tony Sanneh, Christian Gomez, Eddie Pope, and, if you want to get really funny about it, there’s even Shawn Medved, Mario Gori, Dema Kovalenko (my wife would kill me if I left him out) and some other weird people I could throw in here. Yes, yes, yes. But there’s a simple reason I chose Raul Diaz Arce: for no particular reason, he lit up the league during DC’s “wonder years.” And, for no particular reason, DC United has been the best team in Major League Soccer’s history. If I asked to explain it, though – I mean to really make sense of it – the best answer I can come up with is Diaz Arce. It’s like someone asking you, “Why him and not me?” Hell, I don’t know… Raul Diaz Arce? NOTE: To confess one serious bias: I hate winners. Always have, probably always will. When the league was first founded, DC United was my team and it was only because their name wasn’t ridiculous and their uniforms didn’t look like someone vomited girl-drink all over a soccer player. I turned like a bastard on these guys for two reasons: one, having lived in DC for nine months - basically the span of the 1997 season - I discovered that I love the Smithsonian and Adams-Morgan, and the Post Pub, but that I don’t much like DC; two, watching a winning team is like life on anti-depressants in that you don’t experience the full range of emotions….very unsatisfying.

FC Dallas/Dallas Burn
Player: Oscar Pareja
Word: Bone-Tired
Pareja fits the bill because, like Dallas, he starts strong and he was basically talented, but tires down the stretch. It’s like the team was born old and tired. They seem to start every season going on some ungodly tear, opening a massive lead over all comers thereby convincing nearly everyone – or at least me – that THIS will be the year they win it all. Come every August, though, something goes monstrously wrong and they wind up losing in the first round of playoffs – inevitably, to Los Angeles. NOTE: Wherever one finds the phrase “flatters to deceive” they’ll find either “Dallas Burn” or FC Dallas somewhere in the definition.

Houston Dynamo/San Jose Earthquakes
Player: Dwayne DeRosario
Word: Magic Man
There was a time – and a blessed time it was – when San Jose battled my New England Revolution for the unwanted title of worst team in the league. Then came Landon Donovan. After him came Dwayne DeRosario. Two championships and one monumental choke later (last season’s playoffs) and that’s the San Jose/Houston formula: an entire team, as collectively strong as the Red Army rolling out of Stalingrad, and add one “Great Man” at the helm to make the difference. The essential trick is that Houston is never bad.

Kansas City Wizards
Player: Peter Vermes
Word: Dour
There’s no getting around it: Kansas City is boring, possibly the most boring team in the league. If watching Colorado is like watching old people run, watching Kansas City is like watching them sleep. I’ll forever associate these guys with the torture of MLS Cup 2000 and, thus, 1-0 wins; call that the equivalent of that old person waking up just long enough to hit the snooze button before going back to sleep. The living legend Preki excepted, Kansas City seems to throttle the life out of offensive players - think Josh Wolff and Eddie Johnson - thereby rendering them as dull and stingy as the team as a whole. As such, it seemed appropriate to pick a defender to stand for this team, but one as colorful as, say, Jimmy Conrad didn’t feel right. No, a hard, competent player, one who embodies the negative power of the game seemed better. NOTE: Kansas City’s original “Ride the Rainbow” kits have no peer. These made every home game look like a gay pride parade.

Los Angeles Galaxy
Player: Kevin Hartman
Word: Bridesmaid
I’ve never been able to reconcile myself to the idea that LA has won MLS Cup, never mind twice. My impression of this team remains fixed somewhere in injury time of the 1999 MLS Cup, when goalkeeper Kevin Hartman’s completely whiffed a clearance, thereby putting DC United up by two goals. Even when they did win the Cup, it always felt somehow dubious; that, however, hardly stands as a claim that New England, who really stunk up the joint on both occasions, deserved to beat them on either occasion. For all that, LA certainly counts as one of MLS’s elite teams; not only have they never missed the playoffs (yet – tee hee hee), but they’ve participated in as many MLS Cups as DC United. It’s just sickening, really. NOTE: I’ve always hated these guys. They’re kind of my American Manchester United, a team I could somehow pull against even if they played the Ku Klux Klan All-Stars.

New England Revolution
Player: Paul Keegan
Word: Spaz!!
Yeah, New England has some of the league’s best players these days – Clint Dempsey, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, Shalrie Joseph – but this is an aberration. Take away the stars and this team reverts to what it always has been: eleven guys running like hell in all directions, all of them inhumanly eager and blessed with the technical skills of ten-year-olds with club feet. And, as most pundits believe, the stars will be taken away shortly, returning the team to a place where a guy like Darren Sawatzky can be a star. NOTE: The Revs were always my team, even before I knew it. Though I was always going to fall for them, the incomparable fanzine, Pictures of Chairman Mao, accelerated the process considerably. If and when they finally win MLS Cup, I will cry like a girl holding Simon Le Bon’s hand as he sings “Save a Prayer” ‘round about 1983.

Real Salt Lake
Player: Jason Kreis
Word: Bad Math
Real Salt Lake approached the league with an odd, but entirely understandable, philosophy: build a starting eleven around the league’s “elder statesmen,” players who know the league as well as anyone and, arguably, know how to win it. Something gave it out between here and there…well, several somethings, mainly knees and some hips. Missing in this formula were the requisite youngsters, the guys who can run, fetch, and tackle for the “wily veterans,” who no longer have the legs. NOTE: I’ve totally bought into the Real Salt Lake narrative this year; I’d love to see them make the playoffs.

MetroStars/Red Bull New York
Player: Lothar Mattheus
Word: Petulant
If this team could play half as well as they bitch, they’d be DC United, if not better. In spite of frequent overhauls, this team somehow carries at least one prima donna on every season’s roster. Then comes the drama, then comes the losing streaks – put it all together and you’ve got a team that consistently entertains in precisely the wrong place.

Ta da.

No comments: