On my way out of Augusta, Ga., on Monday morning, I started thinking about just what hot topic First XI could explore this week. Having spent a week on the golf course, watching Phil Mickelson win the Masters, I got to thinking: What MLS players can most closely relate to Mickelson, whose claim to fame before Sunday was that he was the best player to never win a major championship? Here's a starting lineup of guys who've come oh-so-close, but have yet to take home an MLS Cup.
11. Adin Brown, New England Revolution: There was nothing Brown (right) could do that November afternoon in Gillette Stadium, as he watched Carlos Ruiz's rolling shot slide just inside the post. For 100-plus minutes Brown kept a clean sheet in MLS Cup 2002, and a year ago, he suffered a similar defeat to the Fire at Soldier Field. Most of the top MLS keepers, from Tony Meola to Scott Garlick, have a ring. Brown deserves one.
10. Mike Petke, D.C. United: Sure Petke has played on some bad teams, but he was a main cog on the backline for a pair of MetroStars teams, in 2000 and 2001, who were eliminated from the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion. A veteran now - it hardly seems possible, but Petke debuted for Alfonso Mondelo's MetroStars back in 1998 - the kid from New York longs for a ring.
9. Steve Jolley, Dallas Burn: In MLS Cup '99, Jolley was on the field for the Los Angeles Galaxy as they lost 2-0 to D.C. United in Foxboro Stadium. A year later, he was a member of the MetroStars, dejectedly walking off the field when Ante Razov scored in the final minute of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final. He's beloved by Metro fans for his passion and desire on the field, but now Jolley's cup quest will have to happen in Dallas.
8. Robin Fraser, Columbus Crew: A runner-up with the Galaxy in '96 and '99, Fraser had to be agonizing when L.A. finally won its Cup in 2002, and he was no longer there. One of the classiest competitors in the history of the league, time may be running out on Fraser, who is now charged with leading a re-tooled Crew team.
7. Evan Whitfield, Chicago Fire: Whitfield missed out on the Fire's '98 championship run, but was on the field for two MLS Cup losses, including the heartbreaker at RFK Stadium in 2000, when the Fire threw everything they had at Kansas City, but could not put a ball past Meola.
6. Mark Chung, Colorado Rapids: You have to wonder if Chung still sees that Mauricio Cienfuegos free kick deflecting off his head and past keeper Tim Howard to end the MetroStars-Galaxy playoff series in 2001. It also has to hurt that Chung's original team, the Wiz(ards) won a Cup without him.
5. Brian Maisonneuve, Columbus Crew: Maiz and the original Crew crew - Brian McBride, Mike Clark, Doctor Khumalo (just kidding) and Todd Yeagley - undoubtedly wake up with nightmares of Marco Etcheverry and D.C. United celebrating at their expense. Sure, the loss to San Jose in 2001 (when they were going to host the final) had to hurt, but losing in the conference finals to D.C. so many times is something Crew fans will not be able to forget - not until the Crew finally break through and win it all.
4. DaMarcus Beasley, Chicago Fire: In the 2000 final at RFK, the then-17-year-old Beasley came on as a second half sub as the Fire tried unsuccessfully to equalize against the Wizards. Last year, Beasley was able to net an equalizer for the Fire in a Cup final, but it was only a matter of seconds before San Jose's Richard Mulrooney was putting the 'Quakes back into the lead. Many thought DMB would be gone from MLS by now. He says one of the reasons he's stayed is to try to get the Fire a title.
3. Steve Ralston, New England Revolution: As a rookie in '96, Ralston played on the Tampa Bay Mutiny, a team that owned everyone in the league - except D.C. United. The Mutiny bowed out to D.C. on their home field in '96 and, as we know, were vapor by 2002. As a member of the Revolution, Ralston's gotten close to the Promised Land twice.
2. Taylor Twellman, New England Revolution: New England's run to the 2002 MLS Cup final was spearheaded by Twellman, a then-first-year MLS striker. But in the final, he barely got a sniff of the goal. A year ago, when the Revs were battling the MetroStars and Fire in the playoffs, an injury had sidelined Twellman. Yeah, Taylor's only been in the league for two years, but he's got more goals than everyone not named Carlos Ruiz during that stretch. When you look at the books, most of the guys who've led MLS in goals through the years have a ring.
1. Jason Kreis, Dallas Burn. It says just above this, "most of the guys who've led MLS in goals" have won championships. Well, Kreis is the most notable exception. He's played his entire career with the same team. He's won an MVP. He's scored huge goals. But Kreis and his teammates have never been to an MLS final. And that's got to Burn.
Jeff Bradley writes about soccer and golf (among other sports) for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to 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 MLSnet.com.