First XI: Barroom Brawl
I'm just going to lay out the battle.
11. What team has the best and worst logo?
Obvious choices for best are D.C. United and the Chicago Fire. Why? Well, even though D.C. slightly modified its eagle after Year One (and maybe altered it one more time along the way) the crest always had a proud look about it. I remember back at the 1996 launch party, when Nike was unveiling all its cartoonish logos -- the Clash, the Mutiny, the MetroStars and Burn -- an MLS employee said to me that D.C.'s logo was the only one in the league that did not measure up to Nike's brilliance. I disagreed, saying it was the best. As for the Fire, sure it looks a little too much like gear an actual Chicago fireman would wear, but it's theme-oriented yet still says "soccer." Peter Wilt's comment that he was looking to come up with something along the lines of the NHL's Original Six was music to my ears. I was working for the MetroStars back in 1996 and said upon seeing the original Metros logo that it was a "grave mistake." I felt this way mostly because I look at logos like the Yankees interlocking NY, the Dallas Cowboys' star and the Philadelphia Flyers' flying P and I see what good looks like. Now, as for the worst logos, thankfully, many have been retired and one's about to be retired ... I'll leave this argument with the simple phrase: "Macho, macho man ... " And leave it up to you all to debate.
10. What is the best player name in MLS history?
We've had our single-names like Welton, Cate and Damian. We even had a few Brazilians in the very first expansion draft with famous names like Juninho and Tulio. When the MetroStars drafted both, the phone boards in Secaucus, N.J., lit up ... momentarily. Remember Zico? I kind of liked the name Wellington Sanchez. The first name alphabetically in league history is Ubusuku Abukusumo, which ain't half bad. I've always been a little partial to Tico-Tico, but that might be selling Junior Agogo short.
9. Which play-by-play man in MLS has the best "goal" call? Who has the worst?
Noticed the MLSnet.com headline the other day, "It's in the net! It's in the net!" Rob Stone doesn't have one standard call, but no one gets more excited. If we're talking history here, we cannot forget all the games Andres Cantor called back in the early days. Believe me, no one could make the name "A.J. Wood" sound so extraordinary. I've got to also mention my buddy Joe Tolleson, who had some nice calls for the original Metros. Still, since I consider J.P. Dellacamera to be the class of all U.S. soccer play-by-play men in the league, I must say I'm a big fan of his expressions like, "We're level!" Max Bretos can be amusing at time, though his calls of Galaxy games often wake my wife. She'll ask, "Did someone score?" and I'll often reply, "No, someone just kicked the ball in the stands." Yeah, Max is a bit excitable. Whatever happened to Lionel Bienvenue?
8. What are the best-looking and the ugliest uniforms in MLS history?
Loved D.C. United's look since Day One, though they must go back to the red shorts on the road like they wore back in the day. Fire uniforms were better when they were Nike, but let's give a nod to the decision to put "Chicago" across the chest of the road uni. Despite the hard hats, I like the Crew's all-yellows a lot. No team has done "bland" in more ways than the New England Revolution. The Metros first-choice shirts have gotten better over time, but their current road set is as bad as it gets. Well, I'm not putting them in the class of, say, the original San Jose Clash or Tampa Bay Mutiny uniforms, which featured colors even Crayola would not acknowledge. Honestly, still much work to be done on this front in the league. We need more identifiable jerseys for many of the teams.
7. Who should be the MLS target audience?
This is a debate for the ages. Do you go after youth soccer? Do you go after the "ethnic market?" Do you just go after sports fans? Lately, I've heard one MLS announcer going off on the league's obsession with attracting the minivan crowd. He said it was the wrong way to go. Here's why I disagree with that one. As a youth soccer coach, at the lowest possible levels, let me tell you that so many kids have no idea what real soccer even looks like. You watch their mannerisms, their technique, the way they approach the game, and you can tell they've never seen what the real thing looks like. If soccer is to grow to the level we all want to see it reach, the kids need to develop a better sense of how to look like a player. You contrast it with Little League baseball, which I also coach, and it's a huge difference. The kids in baseball all have an idea what a big league player looks like. How he throws, how he holds the bat. The kids need more exposure to soccer. My sons, simply because they've been watching MLS games with me since they were born, all know how to strike a ball, how to control it. And it's not because of my instruction. It's because they've seen how it's done. Bottom line here on the target: Go after soccer people, be they grown up or adolescent. Ignore the haters.
6. What's the greatest goal in league history?
Marcelo Balboa's bicycle kick was pretty special, as was Marco Etcheverry's lob from the center circle. You know I'm never going to forget John Wolyniec's Hail Mary, though most Metro fans will go with the Clint Mathis Dallas Slalom. No way I'll ever give the nod to a free kick, though there have been some beauties. Sure I'm missing a few here. After nearly nine years, this will be a tough argument to end.
5. Who's the best defender in MLS history?
Hard to believe it was nearly nine years ago when a kid named Eddie Pope scored the golden goal in D.C.'s first MLS Cup championship. Pope's now the Dean of U.S. Defenders. Chicago Fire fans will always hold a soft spot in their heart for Lubos Kubik, though his specialty was not defending but attacking ... just ask C.J. Brown and Francis Okaroh, who spent their first two years in Chicago marking for Lubos. As we throw names like Carlos Bocanegra into the fray, let's not forget guys who put in good time in the league, like Peter Vermes and Jeff Agoos. There's been a lot of good defenders.
4. Who is the greatest U.S. player in league history?
This might be the most difficult score to settle. Do you go with the kid, Landon Donovan, who led San Jose to two titles in three years? Do you go with Pope? Or, do you pay due respect to a guy like Cobi Jones, who's been so steady for so long in L.A.? How about the MLS stars who never get a look with the U.S. national team, guys like Steve Ralston and Jason Kreis? In some ways, they're even better for their MLS teams than the guys who are always getting pulled out in key moments to go play in a qualifier. Can't forget the 'keepers, either. Has there been an U.S. player who's given more to MLS than Tony Meola?
3. Who is the greatest foreign player in league history?
Everyone's going to lean toward the original class of imports. Guys like Carlos Valderrama, Etcheverry, Roberto Donadoni and Mauricio Cienfuegos. Anyone who's been reading my columns through the years knows how I feel about Peter Nowak. Let's not, however, dismiss some of the current guys. A player like Carlos Ruiz has scored all his goals in a way more competitive league than his predecessors. I have a feeling I know where this argument will go. Put it this way, the finalists' hairstyles have not stood the test of time.
2. Has the quality of play improved or regressed since 1996?
Here's a great argument. I have people all the time telling me how the play in 2004 is not up to the standard of the late '90s. And what do I ask them? Do you own any tapes? Just saying that you recall the old days is not good enough in my book. Go back and watch some of the soccer from '96-'99 before you enter this debate. Take notice of the time and space some of the playmakers have and ask yourself if they'd have the same time and space in MLS 2004. I'm not giving an opinion here, just asking you to educate yourself.
1. What is the greatest team in MLS history?
This argument is intertwined with No. 2. Were the D.C. United champions of '96 and '97 good teams? There is no doubt. But what was their competition like? The league was still very much in a feeling-out stage at that point, nothing like now. I know a certain coach who believes that D.C. '98, the team that lost in the final to the Nowak-led Fire, was the best team ever. Nick Rimando told me once that the 2001 Miami Fusion were the best team in league history, though they were eliminated from the playoffs on their home field. What about the 2000 Wizards? Were they really better than the 2000 Fire? Or did they just have the Magic of Meola on their side? And really, who's to say, when the dust settles this year, when this 10-team pileup is finally over, and one team has emerged as champions, that you won't be able to pull up your bar stool and make a good case for them. After all, no team will have had to work as hard for its Cup as this year's winners.
Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.