2012 MLS Cup Final: Soccer media wags the dog

Harry How

In the latest Ordinary Orange Observations, I take a look at how soccer media is covering the departure of David Beckham more than they should, taking focus off a great soccer championship game.

The definition of the idiom "wag the dog" reads to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the lesser significant event is highlighted, while taking the proper attention off the most important issue.

A dog is smarter than its tail - that's why they control it. If a tail was smarter, it would "wag the dog." It's a funny phrase, but it is what it is. Like many, this term was introduced to me in 1997 when Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman starred in a film with the same title. But this is not about a movie.

It is, however, about a show. That show is supposed to be the 2012 MLS Cup.

Saturday, the defending champion LA Galaxy will face off with the Houston Dynamo in a rematch of last year's final. This may be a rematch on paper, but these are two completely different soccer teams from a year ago. But if you're reading pregame stories, listening to soccer radio or podcasts, you may not even be aware of the Galaxy's opponent.

First of all, the MLS Cup is the dog - the important part. And while expressions are nice, we all know the tail is not smarter than the dog. Last week, David Beckham - MLS' golden calf - announced his last game in MLS will be this year's final. This week, Landon Donovan hinted at hanging up his cleats after the MLS Final as well. Statements of this magnitude have resulted in a media whirlwind around the Galaxy leading up the MLS Cup.

Keep trying tail. It may be working in mainstream media, but the Houston Dynamo has proved since 2006 that they don't worry about media coverage. They don't need to hear from others about their success. They don't need to be reminded about their fourth trip to the MLS Cup in seven years. They don't need reminding about their five conference championship trips in seven years. Dominic Kinnear doesn't need to be reminded he has constructed a winning team in six of seven seasons in Houston. And, he's well aware that his payroll is near $3 million and LA's is closer to $13 million - but Houston's overall roster talent is more complete.

Dominic Kinnear has said recently that he feels the Dynamo haven't received the recognition they deserve at times - and he's right. But if anyone knows the Dynamo way and the Dom Kinnear way, he's not too concerned when the ball gets rolling. All of the attention turned to MLS' favorite team is just fine for the men in orange.

Last year, the LA Galaxy completed a dream season. As they always receive media attention for their heavy payroll and star power, this was the one year they lived up to it. They are deserving champions. The Galaxy played from start to finish as the best team in MLS. They marched towards the final and beat a good Houston Dynamo team to lift the 2011 MLS Cup.

This Year is Different

2012 is not and will not be the same. Last year's Houston Dynamo team marched into the MLS Playoffs as the hottest team in the league. While they deservingly got to the final with a tough 2-0 road victory over the Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City, they went into the final as the underdogs - and rightfully so. The Galaxy were a oiled machine the entire year, and while so many teams that are league leaders tend to falter as they enter the playoffs, LA never looked shaky. Not even in the final. The score was 1-0, but they had the Dynamo on the ropes nearly the entire game.

In the 2011 final, the Houston Dynamo didn't have Brad Davis. Davis was the runner up in the MVP race and was the catalyst in the Houston midfield. Had they had Davis on the field, would the outcome be different? I'm not so sure.

This year, the Dynamo will send a full squad to The Home Depot Center. While a full squad is nice, it's the pieces to this puzzle that make Houston the favorites in my eyes. The addition of Boniek Garcia, emergence of Jermaine Taylor, return of Ricardo Clark, and dominance of Will Bruin and Bobby Boswell will all compliment captain Brad Davis' leadership.

The Galaxy have a similar team, but haven't been able to capture the dominance they had last year. Both Houston and LA deserve to be where they are. The Galaxy had a rough start, but have been playing great soccer. They took out MLS' best team - the San Jose Earthquakes - and even eliminated the league's best scoring threat (and likely MVP) Chris Wondolowski. The Dynamo went through Chicago (on the road), Sporting Kansas City (again), and D.C. United. Regardless of where they entered the playoffs, both are more than qualified to play for the MLS Cup in 2012.

Don't Write Off the Orange

For anyone outside of the city of Houston, it's possible they don't know the MLS Cup opponent for the LA Galaxy. David Beckham's farewell tour is in full effect. Every story, radio show, and podcast is focusing on the man who had a rule created, and named after him. I will not discredit Beckham's positive impact in the United States around the growth of soccer and MLS. His star power helped each and every club - so for that we should all be grateful after he walks away. However, I do question the need for such a star to turn attention from what should be a great soccer match to a sad attempt to wag the dog.

Go ahead Los Angeles. Talk about yourselves til you're blue in the face. That's not the Houston Dynamo way. Things are done differently here. Championships have been built with a group of men that will leave everything on the field and give it their all for one another - no ego's allowed. The Houston Dynamo will sit quietly in their locker room, while the Galaxy's is full of media getting their fill of Beckham and Donovan mania.

When the game starts, all is even. And in the end, a Dominic Kinnear coached Houston Dynamo team has a good of a chance as any to remind everyone how team centric, gritty, give it your all soccer is played - and champions are built, not bought.

Be warned America - don't let the tail fool you. There is another team playing Saturday - and it'd be wise not to write them off just yet.

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