When the idea of SuperLiga first crossed my radar, my first reaction was this:
"Will my editor cover my expenses?"
I mean, there isn't exactly a hidden goldmine in sports journalism, nevermind soccer writing. Money is sometimes hard to collect, which makes it even harder to keep. So naturally, one of my concerns was whether or not I'd have to take a loss to cover it.*
(*Don't get me wrong - I LOVE writing about soccer. Love it. To me, there are few things more satisfying than pounding the keyboard and just tearing through a seriers of thoughts, all pertaining to soccer. It's my drug of choice. Purely addictive. Unfortunately, the fine people at Bank of America, Sprint Wireless, and Nelnet could care less about my passion/addiction. They just want their money. So, whenever I can put together two dimes on this soccer writing gig, well, it just enables me to do more. It's a vicious cycle.)
Since those skeptical days, the extra-MLS tournament has actually grown to become one of my favorite soccer tournaments in the world (in addition to the U.S. Open Cup, which is, by far, my favorite, as well as the FA Cup). The idea of MLS and Mexican sides mixing it up is a stroke of sheer brilliance.
Forget that the Pachucas and Santos Lagunas of the Mexican contingent are often blamed for treating these ties as pre-season warmups. Maybe there is a hint of truth to it. I personally don't view it that way. Granted, I only have the Revolution-fused SuperLiga fare to go by, but their SuperLiga matches have always seemed to be a bit edgier than the standard league fare.
Two years ago, Atlante came to the Razor for the semifinal. There was a brief, but concentrated history between the two. Earlier that year, the Revs flew down to Mexico to play a series of preseason matches with some of the local sides. Atlante was one of them. And Atlante proceeded to play the game as if they were the Dutch of two days ago. Kicking, elbowing, punching and other Mortal Kombat kinda moves. It was like the ball became an afterthought.
The Revs, for their part, had the collective memory of an elephant. They remembered that little kickabout well. Oh, they did. Now it was time for the Atlante streetfighters to come to their domain.
It started off with a steady simmer. Amaechi Igwe was carded just before the half-hour. Then, it boiled over, like a pot of spaghetti with too much water, it's foaming over the ledges, and the hot liquid sizzles onto the even hotter stove, TSSSSS!!!
Here's how it went down after the half, as documented by the following misconduct summary for the final 45 minutes:
NE – Sainey Nyassi (caution) 52
ATN – Giancarlo Maldonado (caution) 53
ATN – Gerardo Espinoza (caution) 56
ATN – Fernando Navarro (caution) 71
ATN – Alan Zamora (caution) 84
ATN – Luis Gabriel Rey (ejection) 85
NE – Chris Albright (caution) 85
ATN – Federico Vilar (caution) 85
NE – Adam Cristman (caution) 90
ATN – Alan Zamora (second caution/ejection) 91+
ATN – Javier Munoz Mustafa (caution) 95+
NE – Jay Heaps (ejection) 95+
ATN – Federico Vilar (ejection) 95+
My favorite of this list is Jay Heaps' ejection. With only seconds to spare, Jaybird mouthed off to black-kitted keeper Federico Vilar. And from there, the usually-friendly, sythentic pitch of Gillette Stadium became 21 Jump Street. It was, in one word, awesome.
Last year, one of the best matches I've ever watched was the opening match featuring Revolution vs. Santos Laguna. It was rainy and windy. You know, the usual kind of weather reserved exclusively for my birthday.
The Revs scored four goals- FOUR GOALS* - on a fast pitch against a set of players that looked ready to shank Shalrie Joseph after the final whistle. The second half was almost entirely bossed by the Revolution B-team. Santos Laguna was not pleased. Pat Phelan got a shiner. It was another gritty, well-played/well-fought match that exhibited an extraordinarily high entertainment quotient.
(*If you can believe it, one of the goalscorers happened to be Kheli Dube. Yes, the same Kheli Dube who has come-oh-so-close and oh-so-far on many occasion this season. Interestingly, he was originally credited with the goal that Sainey Nyassi scored in the 74th against L.A. over the weekend. And you know why I think that happened? Yep...those darn MLS numbers, of which the "1's" and "7's" are almost indistinguishable. What number does Dube wear? 11. Nyassi's numeral? 17. Case closed. I think.)
Some view SuperLiga as just another moneymaker for the suits downcity. Maybe it is. OK, it probably is. But it can't be denied that this tournament has provided some exciting soccer.
Now, I say all that to say this: SuperLiga does almost everything right by me. It gives good games, allows playing time for the reserves, tests MLS players against foreign competition, cures the common cold, etc. In short, it does everything. Everything, but respect my schedule.
Like many soccer writers, the Revolution beat isn't a full-time job. Maybe someday it will. But for now, it isn't, as the logo of a moderately-successful legal firm appears at the upper left of my bi-monthly paychecks.
And while it does, the 8pm weekday match times prevent me from making the 20-mile trek to One Patriot Place, ascend to the press box, watch the game, fire off a quick report, descend to field level for Stevie Nicol's presser, slide over to the locker room, collect quotes, teleport (yes, teleport) back upstairs to crank out a 700-word report, re-read it a half dozen times for errors, exhale a few explitives, eat a jumbo sized oatmeal raisin cookie, add a word, drop a word, spellcheck "Schilawski", and then, and only then, find my way out of the door with another 20-miles ahead of me before I can retire to my bed for the night. All of this has to be accomplished before 12am, the unofficial slumber hour for the man of the 7:30-5:30 workday. Level of difficulty: 9 out of 10.
So, until the soccer writing becomes a full-time moneymaker, the 8pm SuperLiga start time and I are not friends. Not even Facebook friends. In fact, when the "SuperLiga start time" shows up on my newsfeed, I move the cursor as far aways as possible from the "Like" button. It's that bad.
Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is this: I like SuperLiga. I like it alot. It's just the late weekday start times that I'm not biffies with.