Enjoying the Winning of Anything

So I went to a pub in Cambridge to watch the 2007 US Open Cup final (between the N.E. Revolution and F.C. Dallas). The buzz on the ‘net was that this particular place was THE place in the Boston area to watch the match.

I got to the place a little after kickoff and knew immediately that I had found the right place. I opened the door and there were about 20 people crowded in front of a big screen projection TV watching the game. As I made my way through the crowd into the bar I noticed about a dozen more sitting around tables watching the match on a wide screen TV mounted on the wall. About half the bar was watching the Revs and the other half was watching the Red Sox (game 1 of the playoffs).

As I made my way up to the bar, the Revs supporters started yelling at the TV. A guy at the bar turned and gave the crowd an exasperated look. It was then I noticed that it was impossible to hear the sound from the TV – the crowd was so loud they were drowning out the sound of the commentary of both the Sox game AND the final.

The guy at the bar turned to me, and seeing my Revolution shirt, asked me what had just happened. In fact nothing much had happened; Revs defender James Riley had stopped Dallas striker in the box and the crowd in the bar was reacting to the flop. The guy said to me, gesturing to the crowd, “Hey I’m a Revs fan too, but these guys are embarrassing.”

Now I will not write out the rest of the dialogue, as intellectually stimulating as it may be. Suffice to say that there was no way that either he or I was going to get them to quiet down. And then the crowd started singing for no reason - there must have been a break in the action.

The guy at the bar introduced himself to me, and after some small talk he asked me what the big deal was about the US Open Cup. After all, it wasn’t the MLS cup, so why get so excited?

I explained to him that this wasn’t a meaningless cup; but in fact that this was the oldest cup competition in the United States – and teams from across the country have competed in this tournament since 1913. “But it’s not the MLS cup…” he said.

I explained further that the competition was open to any team; not just MLS. I went on to say that some of the non-MLS teams in the tournament were actually better than some of the MLS, and that only three MLS teams made it to the quarter finals. I also began to elaborate how these non MLS teams could actually pay their players more than the MLS because they were not bound by the salary cap structure of the MLS, and therefore could attract talent from outside the country, and the competition isn’t as soft as he might think.

“But it’s not the MLS cup…” he said.

Trying a new tack, I tried to explain how the US Open Cup was actually a better tournament than the MLS cup because there are no “guaranteed spots” – and that a team can’t just duff it all season long and then once your team is in the playoffs start to play well. You either win or you’re out.

“I’m trying to get it…but it’s not the MLS cup…wouldn’t you want to win the MLS cup?” he said. “Why worry about this when you could rest your players and try and win the MLS cup?”

I was beginning to understand how English supporters must feel when their teams are focused on winning a so called “meaningless” cup when there is the FA Cup, the table, and the promise of European football to consider.

I pondered this as the crowd of Revs supporters continued to sing and celebrate the goals being scored and the saves being made, and then bemoan the goals from the other team and the fouls being called (or not being called, as the case may be). And then it finally clicked.

You win for the sake of winning. Whether it is a league match, the MLS Playoffs, Copa Sudamerica, SuperLiga or the U.S. Open Cup Final; there is no difference. You are in it to win. That is the point of the game. That’s why the crowds come to see you play, that’s why people buy your shirts, that’s why fans gather in tiny bars and sing their hearts out: to see you win. And if you play the game well, and you can win it all, then you go for it: for the sake of winning. And after you win it all; you can hold the trophy high over your head and say you took on all comers and you won.

I turned to the guy at the bar, and said “Because they can win something. They can win something for the first time.”

He said “Yeah OK …but it’s not the MLS cup.”

Well he got that part right. It’s not the MLS Cup. But to me, it’s just as sweet as the 71 seconds in the 2006 MLS Cup when the Revs had the only lead of the game. For that minute, we were MLS champs, and it was so surreal to watch it slip away.

This time there was no equalizer to force the game to extra time or penalties. This time we walk out of Pizza Hut Park with the win intact. This time, we get to keep the trophy for the whole year. And I, for one, am going to enjoy it.

At least until the playoffs start.

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