The L.A. Galaxy are Champions of MLS. I have no qualms or hesitation in saying that; they won the trophy I most coveted this season, and regardless of what happens in this poorly-constructed post-season cup tournament currently under way I find it self-apparent as to why the "true champion" is the Supporters Shield winner in this short-lived balanced-schedule era.
If you are one of the many who subscribe to the "Championship or bust" philosophy, then I suppose that "we aren't champions" pretty much ends the conversation. But actually, from where I sit, this nuance makes all the difference in the world in how you perceive the 2011 Sounders season.
We did win something, of course, namely the U.S. Open Cup, doing so in no small part because we took advantage of what could quite rightfully be called a stupid format for the knockout competition. But at the same time it is also pretty fair to say the MLS Cup format is egregiously stupid, mainly because we are supposed to be sold on the idea that it truly decides League Champion.
And so we will spend a few more days bandying about the tired Seattle sports misery, the tales of juggernaut regular-season teams which failed to live up to expectations come playoff time.
I think its about time we stopped playing these naive games, quite frankly. Most of us are soccer fans, and most of us intrinsically understand how and why soccer culture is just "different" from that of the major mainstream T.V.-and spectator sports in the USA/Canada. Attempts to try to force a square peg into a round hole, to forcibly find a way to make soccer "fit in" in America is becoming more and more irritating to me. Not to put too fine a point on it, but do the math: isn't the "different" nature of soccer exactly why it has "taken off" in places like Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver?!
If you want to believe that the 2011 season has been rendered a failure then I am not going to stop you, but I would prefer to remember it for what it was: pretty damn good. We managed 2nd in the League, a clearly superior accomplishment to finishing runner up in either Cup competition, successfully navigated our way through the perplexing and troublesome CCL group stage, and won a 3rd straight domestic cup competition. We won 27 competitive matches, more than any MLS team ever. All this, in and of itself, is enough to define the excellence of this team.
In my worldview, that 2nd place would get us into the group stage for next year's CCL (keeping in mind that in Europe, the domestic cup only guarantees a team a slot in the 2nd tier Europa League, for which a CONCACAF equivalent doesn't exist). Our high finish will in all likelihood bode well for next year's Open Cup (although format changes look to be in store) and we can even claim the Cascadia Cup and dominion over our regional rivals.
But so many soccer fans will willfully ignore this. They will point to two teams in Kansas City and Houston - two teams proven to be clearly inferior from March through October - as having made it farther. One of them will actually get to lift a trophy for winning what amounts to a semifinal match. Its silly and we All Know It, whether or not we want to accept it.
As disappointed as I am that we had another poor outing in our post-season cup tournament, I am actually more disappointed the season is over, and I will have no more Sounders matches to attend until next March.
I, for one, am already counting the days...