By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Dec 1, 2015) US Soccer Players – When you think American soccer, thoughts of players wearing shorts kicking a ball along a lush green field with sunny skies overhead come to mind. That, however, is not always the case when MLS decides to crown a champion. Major League Soccer has resisted going with the European-style September to May schedule, avoiding the bitter cold during harsh Northeast and Midwest winters. While the league refuses to align itself with the FIFA calendar, it has had no problem scheduling the MLS Cup Final for December and its potential for bitter cold temperatures.
During the league’s first 16 seasons, MLS scheduled a neutral site venue well in advance to host the MLS Cup Final. Starting in 2012, the league decided to award the title game to the finalist who amassed the highest point total during the regular season. In doing so, MLS also chose to lose control. No longer could it schedule it in a warm city like Los Angeles. Luckily for the league and the fans, Los Angeles did get to host the match several times in recent years. That’s the best case, but finals also happen in freezing weather.
I have attended the last five MLS Cup finals and two stand out for me. Not for the quality of soccer, mind you. It was for the weather. How could I ever forget the cold!
The first was in Kansas City on Dec. 7, 2013. It was a blustery 22 degrees during the game. It was so cold that MLS press officers gave black blankets emblazoned with the MLS Cup logo to the reporters forced to sit outside for the chilly contest. It may have been the first time American soccer fans actually needed to wear scarves. Then again, the atmosphere at Sporting Park was electric.
The other final I will never soon forget was the 2010 game between FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids in Toronto. This was before the higher seed hosting the final. MLS chose to put the championship in Toronto in late November. The temperature got all the way up to 42 degrees that night, at the time the coldest MLS Cup Final on record, as the Rapids captured the title. For that game, MLS press officers handed out knitted mittens and snoods. Remember snoods, those bizarre scarves all the rage that winter in England? The ones FIFA banned before fashion or common sense could?
Having the higher-seeded team host the final is a good idea in theory. In doing so, the league guaranteed home support for the team that hosts the game, creating a great atmosphere in the process and lending some meaning to the regular season. However, the league does have a strong enough fan base that fans will travel.
I have seen supporter groups from Portland and Seattle make the cross-country journey to play the New York Red Bulls. There is no doubt in my mind that fans would travel anywhere for a championship game. There are plenty of places that could host the game in regions of this country where the weather is milder.
Then again, the first MLS Cup game happened in suburban Boston on an October Sunday when the temperature was in the 50s. That wasn’t the problem. The incessant rain was, making it almost impossible to play at Foxboro Stadium. Nonetheless, the nearly 35,000 fans chanted and cheered throughout the match. The downpour, a result of a Nor’easter that had hot the East Coast earlier in the day, made the field a muddy mess. While playing the ball with one’s feet was nearly impossible, DC United defender Eddie Pope scored the winning goal in sudden-death overtime, netting the winner with his head in a 3-2 victory over the Galaxy.
‘”Soccer fever is alive in the United States and it’s going to stay,” then-United captain John Harkes told The New York Times after the game. ”Before the game, the players were thinking about 14,000 or 15,000 would show up in this weather, but this was unbelievable.”
It holds true that MLS Cup finals can truly be unbelievable – no matter what the weather. But I’m hoping for some unseasonably warm conditions this year. Most reporters really don’t need another hat or blanket to add to their growing collection of MLS winter gear. It’s supposed to get above 50 degrees Sunday in Columbus when the Crew SC hosts the Portland Timbers. Looks like anyone planning to go will need that hat and scarf. Heck, also bring a blanket just to be safe.
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