Another season has come and gone and First XI is here to wrap it all up. From the comfort of my family room, where I watched MLS Cup with my wife and two boys, I let you inside my brain for 11 thoughts about the final and what lay ahead for soccer in America as we head into what should be an exciting next few months.
11. First-minute chance: There's nothing like an early goal to open up a final and as I saw the ball rolling across the Revolution goal in the first minute of play, and saw Brad Davis running onto a ball that seemed to be setting up perfectly on his left foot, I rose from my La-Z-Boy in anticipation of an all-too-perfect moment (for a fan without a specific rooting interest, that is). Little did I realize that Davis' half-chance, which he bounced off the outside of the post, would be Houston's only real scoring chance for the next 110 minutes. Again, let me state my presence here as a fan without a rooting interest in one team or the other. If you're a fan of either team here, it's white knuckles all the way.
10. Jimmy Conrad? And because I have no real rooting interest in the game, I become distracted early when I watch another Adrian Serioux long throw-in corralled by Matt Reis. So, I start thinking about the inclusion of Jimmy Conrad on the MLS Best XI. Obviously, Conrad is one of the best defenders in the league, but this year, he played 15 games for a team that did not make the playoffs. Having two of the league's Best XI defenders come from K.C. is, well, interesting. Names like Craig Waibel and Wade Barrett come to mind as I watch the final. Claudio Suarez did a good job organizing the Chivas USA backline. I'd have preferred to see Conrad get back in there next year than give him what amounts to a reputation award.
9. Mirror images: Last week, I predicted a wide open final and I guess that was just wishful thinking. Former Dallas Burn coach Dave Dir told me I was nuts, and he was right. I started to think as the final moved along that perhaps Dynamo and the Revs were a bit too similar in style to play a fun final. Too reliant on sending balls into the box, not enough possession by either side. Not enough combination play through the center of the field. Way too predictable from both teams. Aside from Joey Franchino hitting Taylor Twellman with a cross around minute 20, there's nothing of interest around the goal.
8. The Dempsey difference: And then Clint Dempsey entered the game, and suddenly, New England looked like a team with more ideas. My favorite quality of Dempsey is his timing, and he was a split-second off on two occasions. Once on a diving header and another time on a slicing run through the middle. Made me wish we could've seen more of Clint here.
7. Three men in the booth: I was not expecting much from the three-man team of Dave O'Brien, Eric Wynalda and Bruce Arena. Figured it would be too much noise. So, what a pleasant surprise. I'd rank the two broadcasts this team did together among the best U.S. soccer broadcasts ever. Why? Because they really analyzed the game from start to finish. Gone was a lot of jabber about haircuts, etc., and we got a lot of analysis on tactics and coaching decisions. I think the Bruce did what a good coach always does, that is, he got the best out of a player. Wynalda took his game to another level. Bravo.
6. Golden goal: I usually fall into line with the "whatever FIFA wants, I want" camp. But I liked the golden goal and think Taylor Twellman's spectacular left-footed finish should have been the conclusion to MLS Cup 2006. A goal is always a better way to end a final than penalties, so why push the game any further when it takes 110 minutes to get a ball to go into the net? Maybe they expand extra time to two 20-minute halves. The first one is open, and the second one is golden goal. Or, better yet, just go back to a golden goal finish.
5. Team of destiny: That said: Wow ... Brian Ching. What a response, and what good fortune for a deflected cross to fall right into his path. After seeing him get on the end of a deflected ball for his bicycle kick Goal of the Year, and after seeing him out-jump Tim Regan of Chivas USA for a ball that was headed down into the ground, in the final seconds of injury time in the first round of the playoffs, you have to think this was just fate for Ching and Houston. That's three really good bounces that went Dynamo's way in three key moments. Then again, good things happen to good teams and good players. Full credit. Still, it seems a lot like destiny.
4. Reis's pieces: OK, so if a game comes down to penalties, at least we were treated to a fun moment, courtesy of the coolest man in MLS. I want Matt Reis taking all Revs PKs from here. Love the stone face. Love the precision. Love the non-reaction when he scores.
3. Don't Heap the blame on Jay: Someone was going to miss for one of the teams; it just happened to be Jay Heaps. Just as I've always felt people gave way too much credit to Brandi Chastain for the U.S. women winning the World Cup in 1999, I think we tend to remember the guys who miss a little too much. So, if you will, when you think of MLS Cup 2006, think of Ching's goal as the big moment, not of Jay Heaps missing the final penalty.
2. Oh Canada!: Now, this would be cruel to Houston fans, but why don't they give Houston an expansion team next year and just let Dynamo, with Canucks Pat Onstad, Adrian Serioux and Dwayne DeRosario, re-locate and become Toronto FC? I mean, Houston hasn't become so attached to these guys yet, has it? Stop the e-mails, it's a joke. I tried to do a little Toronto FC mock expansion draft today with a friend of mine and we decided it was too complicated. About the only guy we have on Mo Johnston's roster is Andy Williams. Why? Well, not so much because he was born in Toronto, but just because he is Andy Williams and he was put in MLS to play for every single team at some point.
1. New and improved: Big announcements coming out of the Cup. The Designated Player rule, which figures to make things exciting in New York and L.A. (at least) this offseason. The MLS-Mexican league cup, which should be a lot of fun. And the player development stuff, which was long overdue. With that, let's see if this can be the biggest and best offseason ever. Bloggers, start your engines! The half-truths and rumors are about to begin.
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 MLSnet.com.