David Hirshey writes regularly for Deadspin about soccer.
I tried, I really did. First I informed all the regulars at Kinsale Tavern that I wouldn't be joining them this weekend for the usual slate of Prem games. "I'm an American, dammit," I proudly told Mid-table Mikey. "It's time to support our own and stop pretending that we're living in England."
"Are you fucking nuts?" he asked rhetorically, "We're in the midst of the closest title race in years, as well as an epic relegation battle, and you're going to watch the Colorado Rapids play DC United at Dick's Sporting Goods Park."
"If it's good enough for David Beckham, it's good enough for me," I said defiantly.
"The difference is," Mid-table Mikey reminded me, "they're paying him 250 million dollars to watch that shit."
But I was not to be deterred, especially after learning that the owner of the Rapids had bought a 9.99 percent stake in Arsenal. You remember Arsenal? A once swaggering juggernaut that embodied all that was beautiful about the beautiful game, now staggering toward a fourth place finish? Crikey! Still, once a Gooner, always a Gooner, which automatically makes Colorado my MLS team. The fact that the Rapids—MY Rapids —were playing a team partly owned by Christian Laettner (even people who have never seen a soccer game will now hate DC United, according to my friend Will Blythe.) made it all the more irresistible. Like everyone else in America outside of Durham, I'd been looking to lay an ass-beating on the Duke pretty boy ever since he nailed that Hail Mary against Kentucky.
Everything went according to plan Saturday — I woke up with a jackhammer of a hangover, had my stomach pumped and poured myself an ice-cold Stella — until I turned on the TV and thought, what the hell, I'll catch the second half of ManU vs. Portsmouth to get me primed for the Rapids game. Big mistake. I mean, once you've whet your palette with a mound of Beluga, a Chuck E. Cheese is going to taste a little funky.
But how was I to know? The score was 1-0 Portsmouth at the break, and the camera panned to Sir Alex, his face a deep magenta hue, chewing his gum so furiously that you feared his head would implode along with his dreams of a treble. The champions-elect, ever aware that their six-point lead over Chelsea was in imminent danger of being halved, attacked with such urgency (only a couple of sick reflex saves by David James on Giggs and Smith kept ManU at bay), and Portsmouth defended with such desperation (Primus's inch perfect, last-ditch tackles on Rooney in the box were breathtaking to behold) that the game pulsated with end-to-end excitement. When Ferdinand's howler sent his back pass past the advancing Van der Sar and into the ManU goal, you could almost hear the peals of laughter at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea had eked out a 1-0 win over a heavy-legged Tottenham side playing on a day and a half's rest.
If only I had chosen to warm up for the MLS opener with that ragged, tepid match instead of the ManU-Portsmouth blinder, things might have been different. Or to put it another way, I might not have nodded off after the first half of Colorado-DC.
I realize this makes me a bad person, and I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the MLS for my churlish behavior, but the gulf in skill, pace and physical commitment between the two games was simply too much for my synapses to handle. Did I mention that I also had three beers in that first 45 minutes?
It's not like I suffered through the opening half, although there were a few times I felt like stabbing myself in the head listening to Dave "Soccer's the game where you can't use your hands, right?" O'Brien. On the other hand, it was great to see my old pal Julie Foudy finally getting a chance to display her freewheeling intelligence, wit and killer smile in the Eric Wynalda Memorial chair. Bundled up against the freezing temperatures, she warmed the cockles of my heart when she called out DC's Ben Olson for a "nice bit of acting" and added, "Ben's not going to like me for saying that." Who cares what Ben thinks, Julie? It's Jim Rome's love we all covet.
Oh, yes, the game. I had actually looked forward to seeing DC United, the one team in the league I always felt could hold its own in the lower reaches of the Premiership. Jamie Moreno and Christian Gomez are class players by anyone's standards, and the addition of the Brazilian striker Emilio gives them a South American flair that is easy on the eyes. Sadly, little of that panache was evident Saturday as DC struggled to get into its offensive flow. Meanwhile, MY Rapids, though utterly pedestrian in their buildup, scored two goals in the first 34 minutes, including a textbook header by my new favorite player Herculez Gomez.
Born in Las Vegas to Mexican parents, Gomez is fast, tricky and goes by the nickname "Johnny Vegas." In 2005, earning $15,000 as a developmental player for the LA Galaxy, he found himself in the starting lineup for a friendly against Real Madrid. Early on, he was tackled from behind by a player who, at the time ,was making a mere $150,000 per MATCH. Herculez got right up in David Beckham's grill and gave him some smack. It's that kind of fighting spirit that augers a bright future for MLS when ol' Goldenballs arrives in late July. By then, I hope to have stayed awake throughout an entire game.