I'll admit that I was one of the guys in high school who gave unmitigated crap to all my soccer-playing friends. Lots of yapping about it not being an American sport, and thus not a "real" sport, etc., the kind of stuff you say as a teenager to try and get under their skin. I, of course, played baseball, the most American sport of all.
Fast forward fifteen years.
I find watching any team other than the Braves to be tedious. The game is too slow if you don't have rooting interest. Maybe fantasy leagues change that, but I've got enough going on without spending hours managing the roster of an imaginary team. I watched several games of the World Series this year mostly because my dad wanted to, but as a sport, I'm pretty much over baseball. Instead, I find myself getting much more excited about European football, er, soccer. I get way more excited about a UEFA Cup game than I do for playoff baseball these days. I have finally begun to see what my high school friends saw about soccer, and I am a burgeoning convert to the other football.
And so last night I found myself watching the MLS Cup finals. I am still new enough to the sport that I find most MLS games boring - I was introduced to the game through World Cup and UEFA Cup, and MLS almost feels like a different game to me. And I will admit that I am new enough to the sport that I had a singular interest in the game - I wanted to see Landon Donovan and David Beckham.
Without paying for Fox Soccer Channel, there simply aren't that many opportunities for American audience to see top-flight soccer talent. So we are reduced to watching an over the hill Beckham late on a Sunday night, hoping to see ... I don't really know what exactly. I'm so new to the sport that my conception of what is possible is still being created. I have seen enough to get hooked, but that is it.
Beckham was supposedly a master of the game. So I tune in, on the hope that he still has something left in the tank and that I'll get to witness it. It is like watching Jordan play for the Wizards, however. You still sit forward when he gets the ball, but nothing really seems to happen.
"You are saying this guy was the best, right?"
"Oh, yeah, you should have seen him..."
Anyway, I digress. I started off this post to talk about championships, specifically the English Premier League. The Premier League has a regular season champion, and a parallel elimination tournament which has its own champion. I love this because it reward regular season success in a definite way, as opposed to baseball. In baseball, teams play an ungodly long season which means nothing once you get into the playoffs. Good god, I hate this system and, yes, this is a direct result of watching the Braves come out with a single championship despite years of regular season dominance. Ugh.
But we have the same problem in college football and the NFL. Look at the undefeated regular season of the Patriots a few years ago - does anyone really think the Giants were the better team because the won the playoff tournament? In college football, poll voters reward teams for losing early, rather than late, because we place a premium on who would win if they played today. No consideration for the season as a whole - better to get hot late.
But why does MLS use an American-style playoff? A team with a losing season just won the MLS Cup, beating the League's biggest stars. I think the parallel championships is a much better way to decide these things. And it is another reason why I'm beginning to love the other football.