The MLS Final Four: Hey, We've Heard of These Guys!

↵While everyone in this country is so wrapped up in American football, there's another football that should garner some attention this weekend. That other football, of course, is soccer. ↵

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↵The MLS has reached the conference finals stage of their playoffs and low and behold, the average American sports fan has heard of some of these players. Maybe you caught the name Brian Ching during your half-hearted yet trendy interest in the U.S. Men's National Team this summer. Perhaps you've heard the name Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who is only one of the most accomplished players in Mexican soccer history. ↵

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↵Oh yeah, then there's those guys named Landon Donovan and David Beckham who sneak into the news every so often. ↵

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↵Even the MLS website is challenging soccer fans in it's Week In Review. Steve Davis writes in his opening graph: ↵

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↵⇥All good soccer fans know a little something about the weekend's goal scorers: a who's who of MLS bright lights, fellows named Blanco, Ching and Donovan. ↵
↵It's a subtle jab, and an easy one to make on the league's own website, but Davis' point is valid nonetheless: good soccer fans know that the MLS product features some of the top names in North American soccer. If you aren't paying attention to the MLS playoffs, then maybe you're not such a good soccer fan after all. ↵

↵Consider me not such a good soccer fan, I suppose. Even though I drop whatever I'm watching to catch USMNT World Cup qualifying and dragged the wife to the CONCACAF C-team match in Philly a few months back, the MLS playoffs just don't resonate with me. ↵

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↵And that's odd, because a semifinal with undoubtedly the two biggest stars in soccer in this country – Donovan and Beckham – should be huge news in the sports world and should have 'all good soccer fans' in America in a fervor for this weekend's matches. But the semifinal between LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo – as star-studded as an MLS match may ever get – will be on at 11:00 p.m. ET on Friday night. ↵

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↵Who is watching that match other than soccer fans on the west coast and maybe a few thousand fans in Houston? The other semifinal, Real Salt Lake at Chicago Fire is Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. ET, which is great, but it's on FOX Soccer Channel, which does not broadcast in HD and is harder to find than Versus on some cable systems. Is MLS trying to hide these games from us? I know that in order to get on TV, secondary leagues are at the mercy of the networks when scheduling, but come on – ESPN stopped its entire programming two years ago to give Beckham the Favre treatment for an exhibition match when he was clearly too hurt to even play. Now they can't give a favorable weekend timeslot on ESPN2 for a match that actually means something? ↵

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↵Sure the MLS Cup 2009 Final will be on in prime time on Sunday, Nov. 22 on ESPN, but that's up against the Eagles at Bears on NBC. Yes, the Chicago MLS team could be playing in its league championship at the same time as the other football team in town is hosting a game on NBC. I wonder which will draw a better number. ↵

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↵Earlier this year, Grant Wahl from SI wrote a wonderful book called The Beckham Experiment, chronicling the star's move to the United States. When I talked with Wahl at the start of the MLS season – when Beckham was publicly feuding with Donovan, calling him unprofessional and the team had missed the playoffs in each of Becks' two seasons – we discussed whether or not the 'experiment' was a failure, or still had a grade of incomplete with the season ahead and more time for reclamation left on Beckham's contract. ↵

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↵In July, Wahl said, "There is a possibility that things could change. He's got three more years on his contract. At some point, it's possible, even this season, that this Galaxy team might be better. It might actually win some games. If that's the case, I guess there's some information for my afterward for the paperback edition." ↵

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↵And undoubtedly there will be, as less than four months later, LA is one match away from getting to the finals. There is a great feature this week in the New York Times by Jere Longman, talking about how this 'experiment' took a turn for the better when Becks' started thinking more about LA soccer and less about LA celebrity. The article also talks about how the team's success is based on the fact that Beckham and Donovan have a newfound respect for one another that wasn't there a few months ago. ↵

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↵I suppose that's what winning will do. Now let's see if soccer fans – good, bad, indifferent – will tune in to watch them. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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