If you are Catholic or friends with folks who are, you have no doubt heard the term "Christmas & Easter Catholic." This is the term used to for people who identify themselves as Catholic but only attend mass at Christmas and Easter. Well, I have long identified myself as a "World Cup Soccer Fan," meaning that I pay attention to it during the World Cup and pretty much forget about it for 365 days of three years and 330 of the fourth. Well, did you know we have a real, live soccer team here in Denver? Did you know they won the MLS Cup in 2010? I did know both of these things but, to be fair, I only found out the Colorado Rapids would be playing for the MLS Cup the day before it happened.
Well, daddy likes a winner and I’ve been left wanting of late. Given the Rockies' disappointing season, a lockout in place for the Nuggets, the Avalanche keeping the infirmary busy, and the general not-goodness of the Broncos, I figured it was time to hitch up to the Rapids' (seriously, are we out of names?) wagon and see if they could convert me to a full-time soccer believer.
SB Nation Denver’s fearless editor and I recently headed out to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to take in a Rapids game. One thing I think DSGP needs is a nickname like the other sports venues in town. Pepsi Center is called "The Can," Coors Field is called "The Can," and Invesco Field is called "Sports Authority Field." Maybe DSGP could be called "The Richard."
If I was looking for a spiritual awakening to being a soccer fan, the drive out to the Richard is like a pilgrimage. I think the first 20 minutes of cheering you hear at a Rapids game is just people yelling "Whoooo! We’re out of the car!" Driving out to the Richard is not something that should be taken lightly. Make sure you’ve been to the bathroom, have something to eat and gas up the car because you are going to be driving for a while. And since it’s so far east and north of town, be a lamb and call all of your friends to see if anyone needs a ride to the airport.
We got there in plenty of time for the game and took a walk around the complex. I saw a few pictures of the MLS Cup Championship run. I will tell you this about American soccer: the MLS trophy kind of kicks ass. It’s a pretty cool one, seriously, go take a look. I think I would rank the trophies of the major sports leagues thus:
1. NHL: The Stanley Cup is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to postseason hardware.
2. NFL: The Lombardi Trophy is simple, classy, iconic.
3. MLS Cup: Seriously impressed with their trophy. However, points off because it is currently in its third design. More points off because it’s named for Philip Anschutz. I’m not a fan of naming things after people who are still alive and that dude has enough stuff named after him already.
4. MLB: I like it, it’s elegant, but it suffers from being called "The Commissioner’s Trophy. " Come on, find someone to name it after. Maybe a person who was good at baseball? I think you have a few to choose from. Also voted "Trophy Most Likely to Put Out an Eye."
5. NBA: The Larry O’Brien Trophy is a hot mess. It’s lopsided, one part is supposed to look like a net, but only like half of a net, then the ball is sitting off to the side. I’m pretty sure the lockout the NBA is having right now has something to do with the players being tired of having to act excited to win such a lame trophy.
I like the Richard--it still has the new stadium smell. One of the things I like about soccer is that the field is nice and clean without a ton of lines all over the place. And they were sure to put in the standard soccer bench, the plexi-glass curved benches that you would see at the World Cup. I’ve always thought the benches in soccer looked a lot like public bus shelters and it’s hard not to imagine them smelling like urine, just like a public bus shelter. For the players’ sake I hope they don’t.
This game was not actually an MLS regular season game. The Rapids were playing Isidro Metapan from El Salvador as part of the CONCACAF Champions League, CONCACAF being an acronym for people who don’t understand the point of acronyms. It’s a tournament among North American, Central American, and Caribbean teams that the Rapids qualified for by winning the MLS Cup. That is one of the more unique things about soccer. If a baseball team wins the World Series, they don’t go on to play a tournament against Cuba. But in soccer, teams can move on to other tournaments in other leagues. If you’re a bit confused, think of it like this: You remember on Super Mario Bros when you defeated Bowser in the first castle? It said "Thank you, Mario, but the princess is in another castle." And then you moved on to the next level to see if she would be in the next castle (SPOILER ALERT: she won’t be.)
Here is one absolute truth about soccer: the fans and cheering that go on at soccer knock the fans of most other sports flat on their butt. An entire section of fans waving flags, beating drums and all singing the same song is a million times better then the generic roll call "Let’s Go Yankees clap clap clapclapclap." Also, jerseys are not the most popular fan accessories. Most fans had identical scarves with the Rapids’ colors, which lent the proceedings a bit of Harry Potter flair.
I don’t want to say that alcohol had anything to do with the jovial atmosphere but dang, there’s a lot of drinking that goes on at the Rapids games. There are no rules like alcohol sales will be cut off at the end of the seventh inning or at the end of the third quarter. At the Rapids games, alcohol sales will be cut off when they run out.
I’ll go ahead and address the elephant in the room-and why many American sports fans don’t enjoy soccer- the scoring. If you go to the bathroom at a football game you might miss a touchdown. Head to the beer line during a baseball game and you might miss a home run. Leave your seat during a soccer game, and you might miss THE goal. You should not leave your seat during a soccer game. You should not talk to your friend. You should not blink. And it does not make any sense that scoring is that hard to come by. A hockey goalie takes up a much larger percentage of the cage than a soccer goalie does but teams routinely score three or four goals in hockey. Why is it so damn hard to score in soccer? Someone said the skill level of the soccer keepers is so high, but I beg to differ. Have you seen how ridiculous they look on penalty kicks?
In the game I went to the lack of scoring was not an issue, and we got to see a keeper look completely awful on a penalty kick. Isidro Metapan took the opening kickoff right down to the Rapids’ zone, got fouled and scored on a penalty kick like 20 seconds into the game. But those who were hoping for a 1-0 final were out of luck, as the Rapids tied it quickly and eventually forged ahead. The final score of this game was 3-2 Rapids, which is the equivalent of a football team winning by a score of 684-293.
And that score caused a problem for me as I pondered whether or not I was now a full time soccer fan. How can I decide if I like a sport with all that scoring going on? I was a little disappointed in the Rapids and Isidro Metapan for not having the courtesy to put on a low scoring show. I guess I’ll have to make another pilgrimage out there to the Richard to see how I really feel about soccer. Gas up the car, I’m going to the bathroom.