While it may pale in significance compared to, say, major terror plots against a fleet of trans-Atlantic planes, the friendly (mostly) encounter between Major League Soccer pace-setters DC United and international club of glamour Real Madrid was quite an occasion. A crowd of over 66,000 filled Seattle’s Qwest Field to worship at the hair-gel-smeared altar of Los Galacticos—with the unexpected-by-most added treat of a spirited stand by our own national capital’s team.
The XIDevils National Desk, comprised of Yer Correspondent and his immensely patient wife, occupied two seats in the lower tier, with a lovely view of David Beckham’s taut legs and male sport manicure as he patrolled Real’s right wing through the opening stanza. But while Spice Boy Mania seemed to rule the passions of most, I was just excited to finally clap eyes on United, which has quietly spent 11 years becoming the Best American Soccer Club Of All Time. (A category that is, admittedly, not crowded.) Ruud Van Nistelrooy—meet Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskanderian! Mr Beckham, may we present Young Master Adu! Everyone, please welcome Ben Olsen—he’ll be the guy pummelling the bejesus out of your shins for the next hour and a half.
By now, everyone in the Calcio Conspiracy knows the result and has probably read some of the usual crop of “Shazam! Soccer IS Popular Here After All” coverage that always blooms after these occasions. So I’ll make do with a few shots of observation in (more or less) no particular order:
ITEM: Ben Olsen rocks. The terrier-like, weird-bearded DC midfielder signalled his intentions early, when he tried a sneaky run through the heart of Real’s defense. It came to nothing, but it was one of those little, subtle moments that tell you a player plans to get it on the right way. Olsen spent the entire evening stuck in Real’s craw, relentlessly chasing balls, thwacking millionaires, launching attacks and otherwise acting as United’s engine. He got up in Cassano’s face; he got up in Robinho’s face. After years of blue-collar labor for light MLS paychecks, the one-time wunderkind is now a wily, hardened soldier, one of the best we’ve got. If he were a little younger and a little more consistently included in the national team picture, I’d rate him the obvious choice to replace Reyna as Captain America.
ITEM: It’s time to give Freddy Adu a break. It sometimes feels like everyone is dying for the Ghanian golden boy to fail. At the ripe young age of 17(ish), he’s already had the New Yorker condescend to him in a lengthy feature that more or less implied that he’s both washed-up and kind of dumb. He’s been the subject of who-knows-how-many hit pieces on various on-line boards. But you know what? He’s good. He made all kinds of useful, smart runs. He squared off against Roberto Carlos—which naturally involved a few embarassing moments—and took it like a man. He created DC’s splendid equalizer with an enterprising thrust down the right flank an a highly counter-intuitive cross all the way to the other side of the box, where he found Gros (I believe) thundering along. Gros-Moreno-Eskanderian———GOOOOOOOL! But it was Adu’s baby at the start.
ITEM: Fabio Cannavaro. The Italian captain received a huge ovation from the Seattle crowd when he entered at half-time. And while he only occasionally displayed the evil cunning with which he guided the Azzurri defense (frankly, the second half was a ragged mess, thanks to battalions of subs), he showed his steel a few times. Of all the Galacticos, I was most excited to see him and Robinho.
ITEM: Troy Perkins’ save from a Roberto Carlos free kick. A man who works part-time at a bank to make ends meet vs. perhaps the most famous direct-kick taker in the world. A ballistic shot. A death-defying save, leading to a heroic goal-line scramble to preserve the draw. C’est magique!
ITEM: Robinho. Didn’t show a ton, and when he did it was mostly to argue with Ben Olsen, who was clobbering him. But a few classy, hydraulic, futsal-inspired touches were enough.
ITEM: Van Nistelrooy. An annoyingly good, persistent striker, but DC shut him down, snaring him in the offside trap numerous times.
ITEM: Petr Nowak. The salty Polish manager should, on the strength of DC’s performance this year, be in the picture for the US national team slot. Adu aside, United is hardly studded with international blue-chippers, but Nowak has molded DC into a stylish, confident, crafty unit. He could do the same with roughly the same calibre talent for the White Buffalo.
ITEM: The crowd. Though I’ve read some complaints about a lack of atmosphere, I thought it was fine. No, it was not a Saturday afternoon at Millwall by any stretch of the bean, but the knowledge, enthusiasm and diversity of this mob was very heartening. The turnout—on short notice, at premium prices—underscored how insane it is for MLS not to be in the Northwest. The league could have not one—not two—but three strong franchises in the Far Corner. Instead, 11 years on, it’s still trying to make sense of Kansas City, moving heaven and earth to find a patch of parched Salt Lake exurbia to call home, et cetera. Oh, yeah—ownership, blah blah blah, stadiums, blah blah blah. What bullshit. Put teams in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver and let rip, I say! Get me Commissioner Garber on the Red Phone!
ITEM: Best memorabilia sightings:
—Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moskva scarves
—Multiple Portland Timbers scarves
—A Chico Rooks t-shirt.
ITEM: Worst moments:
—Half-time highlights montage of the Seattle Sounders’ First Division championship last year. Even in victory, the Pod is pathetic to behold.
—Pre-game presentation of two typically hideous Dale Chihuly glass blobs to the two sides’ captains. I’m sure Real Madrid’s trophy case has some outre shit in it after all these decades, but what are they going to do with this thing? Is there a Spanish equivalent of Secretary’s Day, so they can decently rid themselves of it?