Tonight was the final match of the SuperLiga, a new competition that pits soccer teams from Mexico and the United States. These kinds of competitions need a history to really grab the fans' attention, so this inaugural year was more about beginning that history than anything else. Still, the soccer nations of the U.S. and Mexico do not like each other … they are each other's greatest rival. So it was inevitable when a Mexican team and an American team made it to the finals, that Mexican fans would rally around Pachuca while the Americans looked to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
I was a bit torn … back in the good old days when the Earthquakes still existed, the Quakes-Galaxy rivalry was arguably the best in MLS. And I watch a lot of Mexican club soccer, more than I watch MLS, so I have some familiarity with Pachuca.
The teams for the tournament are chosen based on past performance, which may explain the presence of LA … they are the worst team in MLS this season, having won only three league matches all year. Nonetheless, they are America's most famous soccer team, because they are the team for whom David Beckham plays. Or doesn't play, as the case may be … Becks has been injured a lot, and when he does play, he always goes full-bore, which more often than not means he gets hurt again. But he was going to play in tonight's SuperLiga final, which added some pizzazz to the match.
The match goes as expected for awhile … Pachuca is a good team, the Galaxy are not, but the Gals have Becks and they have Landon Donovan and they have a fine goalkeeper in Joe Cannon, so for awhile the match is scoreless. And then … well, first off, there's always a little advertisement attached to the score atop the screen, and suddenly it reads "Death Sentence," which I suppose is a movie or something, but man, does it look ominous. As if to demonstrate the odd connection between the ad on the screen and the play on the field, one of the many mediocre Galaxy players put the ball into his own net to give Pachuca a 1-0 lead.
And then, a couple of minutes later, Beckham goes charging in on a 50/50 ball, clean play by both players, but Becks comes up short, and the next thing you know, he's lying on the ground. Injured. Out of the game. On his way to the locker-room.
And the ad on the screen changes to State Farm Insurance.
At this point, Landon Donovan wakes up. Landon has a long history with the Mexicans … he speaks enough Spanish to do interviews on the Spanish-language stations, the Mexican fans, who know quality, recognize that Donovan is our greatest player, so they hate him more than they hate the other players, which gets him fired up, and he usually plays his best against Mexico, and Pachuca is a stand-in for Mexico anyway. So Landon tries to take over the match, and he certainly has the skills. But the only other good outfield player on the team is in the locker-room getting his knee fixed, and so Landon runs around, and Landon makes nice passes, and Landon gets open for the nice passes of others, and Landon puts in corner kicks, and it amounts to nothing, because the Galaxy stink.
But, to give them credit, they are busting their asses. It's almost sad, seeing how hard they are trying, knowing that they aren't quite good enough. In the second half, the eternal Cobi Jones takes the field for LA … Cobi has spent his entire MLS career with the Gals, he's finally retiring at the end of the year, he's lost much of the speed that made him special, but one thing about Cobi, if he isn't on your team, he is one hell of an irritating prick. He's on the field about five seconds and a Pachuca player knocks him over as if he still remembers Cobi's role in the USA's great 2-0 World Cup victory over Mexico in 2002. Yellow card.
Meanwhile, Joe Cannon is having a terrific match in goal for LA, so that Pachuca's lead remains 1-0. The Galaxy bust their asses, Pachuca keeper Calero makes a few good saves, and the 90 minutes of regulation end with Pachuca still up by a goal.
The referee adds four minutes of stoppage time.
Chris Klein was a good player in the early years of MLS, and had a minor career with the national team. More recently, he'd fallen victim to the same thing that gets us all … he's now 31, which is getting on in soccer years. A couple of months ago, the Galaxy traded a couple of high-profile young players to acquire the aging Klein … nothing against Chris, but it was the kind of dumb move by team GM Alexi Lalas that has made this Beckham-and-Donovan team so bad.
And so, of course, as the clock ran down those four minutes of stoppage time, Klein found himself in front of the Pachuca goal as the ball bounced off of several players. It came to Klein …
And he laid out a perfect bicycle kick to tie the score.
This led to thirty minutes of overtime, and who should show up on the Galaxy bench but Becks himself … dressed in an absolutely gorgeous suit. I know nothing about these things but it looked like it cost more than what some players in MLS make in a season. He got excited, he chewed out the refs, he encouraged his teammates … it was almost inspiring. Meanwhile, more than one player left the field because of cramps … it ain't easy running back and forth on a soccer field for 120 minutes. After overtime, the score remained 1-1, which meant penalties.
A miss here, a miss there, and suddenly the Galaxy had a chance to win it all. If they made their next penalty kick, the trophy would be theirs. And they'd saved Landon Donovan for just this moment in time.
Landon went through his long pre-penalty ritual, which among other things always aggravates the opposing goalkeeper. He stood up, ready to win the championship for his team, salvaging a bit of pride for that club which had been bad for most of the year. On the sidelines, his teammates locked arm-in-arm, Becks in the middle. Perhaps all of the abuse Landon had taken from Mexican fans over the years was in his mind as he stepped up confidently to take the penalty.
And Calero made a diving save.
So much for a Hollywood ending. Pachuca made their next penalty, the Galaxy missed theirs, and the first SuperLiga champion was a Mexican club.