The Clean Sheet: An 'instant classic'

For the last four seasons I have filed my regular TCS drivel every Thursday with a look at what is going on around the MLS and soccer world. But after seeing the broadcast of the San Jose-Los Angeles match Saturday night on The Deuce, I just couldn't wait to put pen to paper.

From the storylines to the San Jose fans to the game itself to the broadcast, that was simply one of the best two hours of MLS action I have seen in the league's 10-year history.

If you missed it, I am truly sorry, and I will try to recap for you what the people over at ESPN would call an "instant classic."

THE BROADCAST:

Despite one early-show blunder (they had JP Dellacamera talking over the Quakes fans booing Landon's introduction), the ESPN2 crew simply had one of the best shows I can remember ... ever.

The open featuring Landon Donovan perfectly set the stage for the story of the game: Landon's return to Spartan Stadium and the fans who felt betrayed by the kid they watched grow up on their pitch. Early on that was backed by an interview with Donovan before the match, and the stage was set.

During the match the always-solid JP, along with Eric Wynalda, were more than up to the task. They gave the Donovan story the proper emphasis it deserved, but without overshadowing the other storylines, from the Galaxy's road woes to Brian Ching remaining on the bench.

I thought Waldo had one of his best matches yet. His analysis of the match was purposeful, and even when he was wrong with a prediction, he was happy to call attention to that fact and tell viewers what had happened. The attention to the Galaxy's awful performance was spot on, but not gratuitous; he was very targeted with why Los Angeles was so unthreatening.

Throughout the broadcast there were several elements that added to the overall show, including a strong halftime. As the match began, I was wondering if they were going to address the fact that sideline reporter Brandi Chastain had just been dumped from the women's national team. While a cursory mention would have been the minimum necessary for journalistic integrity, they actually interviewed Chastain about the situation - a class move by the producers, and by Chastain for agreeing to the segment.

While the feature on Landon at home was a good chance to see his place and get a good look at his arm candy (or is he hers?), the video of the Quakes fans smacking the Donovan piñata and all the great signs in the stands really added to the atmosphere.

In this space in the past I have been more than willing to call out the TV producers and broadcasters when things have not been up to snuff, and so it is only fair that I take this time to tip my cap to what was just a great sports television broadcast that was full of great storylines and capitalized on a game that provided some wonderful action.

THE SAN JOSE FANS:

If someone can tell me when an MLS atmosphere for a regular season game looked better on television, I would love to hear it, because that was one of the most wonderful displays in the 10-year history of the league. There was some question about how Donovan's return would be received by the Quakes fans, and there was absolutely no doubt from the beginning.

From the booing every time Landon touched the ball, to the eye-catching amount of signs ripping their former golden boy to the folks organizing the piñata, I was frankly awed by the Spartan Stadium faithful. The atmosphere for that match was as fun as any regular-season game I have seen on TV in a long while, in any league. Congrats to everyone at the match. Whatever happens with the San Jose franchise down the road, for me that match was the legacy of the wonderful soccer fans in the area.

THE GAME:

I am not sure what would have made for a better ending to the story: the Quakes absolutely shutting down Landon as they did, or Donovan scoring a goal to beat San Jose (plus, I would have loved to see what he did after the goal if he had scored).

But as sad as Los Angeles is on the road, full marks to the Quakes for a game plan that absolutely shut down the Galaxy. They frustrated Los Angeles time and again, and Landon never found the game all night. The first goal was fun to watch, and the next two were comical, but also show what happens when you pressure a team and play as tough as San Jose did Saturday.

And if you haven't seen the absolutely unreal goal line scramble in the 55th minute in which Pat Onstad makes point-blank save after save, you absolutely must. Spectacular stuff.

As for the Galaxy, there is not much to say any more about that team on the road. Outside of a few dead balls, they just never looked threatening and had absolutely no ideas going forward. Pete Vagenas has turned into a very nice player, but I am sorry - losing him before a match is not something that should cripple the offense of an MLS team, let alone an alleged title contender, so I don't buy that as an excuse for that performance.

It has to be said, that was a game in which Landon needed to step up and take it over, and it just never happened, for whatever reason. The open of the show compared him to Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, and I couldn't help thinking as the Quakes took control, that those two players had the ability to take over a game singlehandedly at times. I wrote just last week that Donovan is still the player in the league I would most pay to see, but Saturday night was a disappointing display.

That said, to hang that loss on Donovan's head is totally unfair, as the blame should go to the coaching staff and all the players equally. Giving up two own goals is amateur stuff, but to be fair San Jose was due some more goals, as the L.A. backline was stretched often and Kevin Hartman flopped at or was lost on more than one cross. The result was Machiavellian, in that the 3-0 scoreline was just, no matter how the goals actually went in.

All in all, from the atmosphere to the storylines to the game itself to the broadcast, that is the match MLS should use as its calling card of just how passionate and exciting their product can be.

The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on MLSnet. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com. Send any questions and comments to tcsresponses@yahoo.com


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