Can it be? Have MLS regular-season games truly taken on an aura of urgency and intensity?
No question. Last week's Real Salt Lake-Colorado tussle, despite being played on football markings, had scraps and scrapes long before Rapids players taunted opposing fans so vividly RSL supreme Dave Checketts complained to the league office and issued an admonishing statement.
Oh, boo hoo. Checketts even played the youth card, citing certain behavior as bad examples to the youngsters in attendance, even while his latest stadium plan includes a provision that many parents believe will rake money away from school districts, a few of which are locked in their political and territorial struggles. Whatever.
But back to the action. When Clint Mathis served a sweet diagonal ball that Thiago Martins cracked on frame, only to be repelled by Scott Garlick, and followed up with another shot that Eddie Pope cleared off the goal line, the crowd roared and the players growled. It was just one example of close shaves and tense moments that peppered the 90 minutes.
Whatever one thinks of the MLS quality of play, the quality of competition is intensifying. With only D.C. assured of a playoff spot, even the liberal MLS allotment of postseason places has every other team sweating hard.
When the Galaxy dumped D.C., 5-2, at RFK last weekend, the home team didn't take it well. D.C responded Sunday with a spirited showing at Home Depot while beating CD Chivas USA, 2-1, in another edgy encounter. When Preston Burpo let a low roller from Christian Gomezslip past him for the winning goal, the fans let him hear about it for the rest of the match.
When the Crew, with the poorest record in the league, knocks off one of last year's MLS Cup finalists, 3-0, to keep its own playoff hopes alive, it proves the perils of parity do have an upside.
The logic may seem convoluted, but if parity keeps the playoff races tight, the more places up for grabs, the better.
REV MALAISE. Speaking of the Revs, losers in Columbus last Saturday, of this weekend's games the most interesting should be New England's home game with the Red Bulls (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET on Direct Kick; HDNet; WB-56; MSG). The Revolution players, with a few exceptions, haven't been focused enough the past two months, and another failure to win at home will depress their dwindling cadre of fans even further.
Clint Dempseyand Shalrie Joseph have been denied overseas moves. Taylor Twellman, rightly, wants to renegotiate his contract. Steve Ralston, after missing out on a World Cup place, hasn't been the offensive catalyst of years past.
For players of this caliber, a 5-3-3 home record just isn't good enough. Distracted or not, this team isn't getting it done. With five of the last seven at home, anything less than second place is a failure.
CORRECTION:The reference in last Thursday's Confidential to NASL star Mike Flanaganshould have identified him as a New England Tea Men player.