At first glance, it looked like the UEFA Champions League Cup had been modernized. It has the same type of cup, but with some intriguing additions -- fluted, sterling silver handles that are definitely 21st century.
And the trophy is definitely North American.
On the eve of the start of the 13th MLS Cup Playoffs, the league unveiled a new trophy with a new name for its MLS Cup -- the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy at Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan Wednesday morning. Tiffany produced the last piece of important MLS silverware -- the Alan I. Rothenberg Cup.
Naming the trophy after Anschutz, Garber said, was a natural. Anschutz, who owns the Los Angeles Galaxy and half of the Houston Dynamo, is credited with being one of MLS' founders ... and even saviors.
"Phil is the driving force," Garber said. "He is the heart and soul of Major League Soccer."
New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft brought up the possibility of renaming the trophy at a meeting. "We really believed that Phil Anschutz deserved a lasting legacy," Garber said.
Garber added Anschutz's involvement with the sport is more than just throwing around money.
"Phil Anschutz believes in the sport down to its core," he said. "He attends games almost every weekend with his family. He believes in the American player. He believes that this country has to have a top-flight league that celebrates what he thinks is the best sport in the world."
But there was a time when Anschutz had to throw a lot of money at the league.
"In our darkest hour, we went through contraction," Garber said, remembering late 2001 and early 2002. "We were really questioning what the future of MLS would be. Phil Anschutz stood up and said, 'Even if I have to carry this league on my shoulders, I won't allow Major League Soccer not to continue or grow.'"
Which he did. At one time he owned as many as six teams at once. Now it's down to one and part of another.
Of all the players who have performed in the league since the opening kickoff of MLS on April 6, 1996, no one is more suited to talk about the MLS Cup trophy than New York Red Bulls technical director Jeff Agoos. During his playing days Agoos became the resident expert regarding holding and carrying championship trophies high over his head. He is the only player in league history to be a part of the winning side on five occasions. That's three times for D.C. United (1996, 1997 and 1999) and twice more for the San Jose Earthquakes (2001 and 2003).
"Having the cup so close and the door so near, I want to take it, but that's the easy way out," he said during the ceremonies.
But then he got serious.
"It's a gorgeous trophy," Agoos said. "This symbolizes hard work, dedication and excellence."
Agoos and Tiffany & Co. vice president Thomas O'Rourke had the honor of taking the wraps off the newest piece of MLS hardware. The trophy will get its first official use at MLS Cup 2008 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., when Garber hands the silverware to a fortunate captain of one of eight playoff teams.
As to who clutches and caresses the silver, it remains to be seen. It could be any team from the elite eight. Start with the conference titlists, the Columbus Crew, the Supporters' Shield winners and two-time defending MLS Cup champions Houston Dynamo. Perhaps one of the hardened Eastern Conference rivals, four-time cup finalist New England Revolution, or the Chicago Fire, who have been trying to duplicate the success of its 1998 expansion season for a decade. Maybe, just maybe, one-time expansion teams Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake will get an opportunity to take the final victory lap. Or perhaps one of the wildcard playoff teams -- the Kansas City Wizards and or the Red Bulls -- will pull off a miracle and dance around with the precious silverware.
The first two MLS championship trophies, which have been paraded around football and soccer stadiums since the very first MLS title match at a wet, windy and cold Foxboro Stadium on Oct. 20, 1996, were named after Rothenberg, one of the founding fathers of the league. Rothenberg, the former U.S. Soccer president, organized and directed the USA's successful World Cup in 1994.
Garber said he spoke with Rothenberg about the name change. "The first person we contacted was Alan," he said. "Alan was very gracious and agreed with this concept."
Garber said a new MLS award will be named after Rothenberg, which will be announced soon.
Oh yeah, about new silverware's stats: it's 24 inches tall, plus an additional seamless base of 4-1/2 inches, and weighs 43 lbs. The MLS Cup logo is etched on the front of the trophy with Phil Anschutz's name. On the bottom is a map of North America with 14 stars that symbolizes each of the league's teams (if you want a better description, take a look at the picture that accompanies this story).
Before it is awarded, the Anschutz trophy will get its own little parade of its own, well, actually a short tour. It will stop in Bristol, Conn. to be shown at ESPN studios for Thursday night's first playoff match between the Revolution and Fire before going to Chicago on Nov. 6 and Houston on Nov. 8 before finally reaching its ultimate destination in Los Angeles and Carson, Calif. from Nov. 19-23.
Volkswagen of America will serve as the official MLS Cup fleet during "The Road to MLS Cup" tour, bringing the cup from Chicago to Houston to Los Angeles.
Barring extra time or a penalty-kick shootout, the Anschutz trophy will be held high in the air by the winning team, kissed countless times before a victory lap and dance around The Home Depot Center.
That trophy, however, won't be kept by the championship side for long. The winning team will receive a duplicate one to show off at its home opener and some other functions before being displayed in the team's trophy case. The original trophy will call the MLS offices in Manhattan home.
Michael Lewis covers soccer for the New York Daily News and is editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.