Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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As some of you may know, there is a massive soccer game coming up this Saturday in Kansas City that is beginning to gather a good amount of buzz. The 2013 MLS Cup will be played at 4pm at Sporting Park in KC between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake. This year marks the first year of the higher seeded playoff team hosting the championship match.
Unfortunately for "big market" fans, the match this Saturday will have no David Beckham, no Clint Dempsey, no Thierry Henry, and no big-name glitter. The MLS Cup final will feature two traditionally small-market teams in Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake. Sporting KC is the new kid on the block with their relatively new stadium, name and look, and Real Salt Lake is the team that NEVER wants to die. As a reminder, this was supposed to be a "rebuilding year" for Salt Lake and we can all see how that has worked out.
But I am here to tell you that there are still multiple reasons why all soccer fans in America, MLS fans or fans of the European game, should pay attention.
Sporting Park, KC's new stadium will have a jammed packed crowd of over 22,000 in there almost 19,000 seat stadium to create a must watch atmosphere that should set a good bar for future teams hosting the cup in their home stadium. But why else should the causal soccer fan tune into the season finale on Saturday? In this post, I will give you my three big reasons on why you should tune into this game.
1. Important US Men's National Team players are involved
Beginning with RSL, their steady leader for the past couple of seasons has been USMNT midfielder Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman managed 4 goals this year as captain, but his presence is felt in aspects of the game not recorded on a score sheet.
The name and the hair should be recognizable to US soccer fans around the country and so should his game. In addition to being a standstill in the middle of the park for RSL, he has also spent time with the USMNT as many already know. He has 32 caps with the senior squad and scored once back in 2009. More recently, Beckerman was a regular pick by Klinsmann during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup as the US took the title earlier in the summer.
In the back, you will notice a familiar name between the pipes in Nick Rimando. Similar to Beckerman, Rimando has been a constant number 2 or 3 goalkeeper over the past couple of years for the USMNT and has always been consistent. Keep in mind he was also RSL's goalkeeper when they last won the MLS Cup in 2009. Rimando has been here before and should play a key role.
Beckerman and Rimando's experience will be key to watch as they go up against another USMNT midfielder on Sporting KC, Graham Zusi. That match-up between Beckerman and Zusi in the midfield will be key in gaining control of the game.
With Sporting playing at home, I expect them to try and control the tempo early and play through Zusi. Zusi has been one of those "up & comers" for Klinsmann and US soccer fans to watch while his growth has been consistent. Just this past week Zusi was named to the MLS Best Eleven Team for the second year in a row.
The last player to watch is someone that has burst onto the national scene in 2013. That is Sporting KC and USMNT defender, Matt Besler. He became a standout performer for KC during the 2012 season winning numerous league awards such as Defender of the Year, Breakout Player of the Year and he was also included on the MLS Best XI.
Besler made his debut for United States on January 29, 2013 in a friendly match against Canada. Previously, on August 23, 2012, Besler was called up to the United States squad by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for a friendly against Mexico, but he didn't feature in the match.
On March 26, 2013, Besler made his first World Cup qualifying appearance in a 0–0 draw at Mexico. Due to the magnitude of the match and the result the US earned down in Mexico, many consider this to be Besler's official coming out party as the USMNT held Mexico to a scoreless draw in the intimidating Azteca Stadium.
All of these players are fighting for roster spots in next summer's World Cup. Keep an eye on their play as these are some of the most influential players for both teams. The balance on both sides makes this match so interesting as each team has depth, experience and leadership.
2. It is the PERFECT Lead-in to SOME college football championship games
Sure you miss the big SEC Championship game between Auburn and Missouri, but you still can catch the two biggest games directly after the MLS Cup match. The ACC Title game and the Big Ten title match both follow the MLS Cup game shortly after kicking off right around 8pm on Saturday.
These are the two biggest games because of the simple notion that if each Ohio State and Florida State win their respective games, then they will both most likely meet in the BCS National Championship game.
3. It is our domestic league, we should care, right?
It is safe to say that there are A LOT of soccer fans in the United States. During the last two World Cups, the United States has been in the top 3 countries in tickets purchased for traveling fans and visitors. To extend on that, the US is already on pace to be one of the top three countries in World Cup tickets purchased again for Brazil as those numbers are still being determined.
It is also safe to say that most soccer fans are fans of the European game. This means that they follow either the top leagues in Spain, England, France, Italy or Germany. This leaves a smaller percentage of fans we assume follow MLS. Without getting into specifics, the number is most likely higher than most think. There is a reason that MLS has a higher average attendance than the NBA and NHL.
The main reason I think soccer fans need to follow the game this weekend is because it will simply be a high quality soccer game featuring numerous Americans between two successful American soccer clubs. Fans SHOULD care that this high profile game is going to be on national TV and they should want to know the result. I have a personal belief that for soccer to continue to grow in this country the average American soccer fans needs to support MLS on some level, even if it is a small one. This might just be my personal belief, but the game needs attention from everyone to continue to grow. Keep in mind that the TV deal for MLS is up after 2014 so a MLS Cup with good ratings will only benefit everyone.