What a quality game from the two best teams in MLS (at least by record). The number of subtexts running in this game were nice as well. More on that in a second. In the first half it looked like it was all Chicago as they looked to be poised to work their road form magic. Brian McBride's goal in the middle of the first half demonstrated why he is still a threat at age 35 (he almost had a second but was snuffed by Will Hesmer). The game was end to end, with bursts of possession, speed, counterattacking, passing, movement and everything that goes to a quality game.
The second half was all Columbus for the first 30 minutes of the half. Two quick goals, and lots of pressure demonstrated why Columbus is the Supporter's Sheild winner. They showed character, heart and skill. If there was any doubt as to why the Crew's Chad Marshall was defender of the year, they needed to look no further than last night. He was a terror at both ends of the field, getting the equalizing goal, shutting down Blanco, containing McBride and making himself a nuisance on Chicago set pieces. If there was any doubt as to why Guillermo Barros Schelotto should be the League MVP, it was put to rest last night. Two assists and great creativity show why he deserves the nod. Last night showed why Robbie Rodgers and Eddie Gaven at the best winger duo in MLS. And last night should have been a chastisement to DC United for giving up Brian Carroll.
But great play is not confined to the Columbus side of the ball. Why the United States didn't naturalize Boukary Somare is beyond me, but he will be a big help to the Mali National Team. Wilman Conde showed also why he is consistently at the top of everyone's defensive list. Blanco and McBride (if both are back next year) showed us that experience, vision and positioning can make up for lack of pace. Justin Mapp made a case for his growing role in the Fire midfield. Despite two goals against him, Jon Busch showed us why he is one of the best keepers in MLS. Neither goal can be attributed to a goalkeeping error, but Gaven's goal is a defensive error that Busch almost saved.
But what is entertaining is some of the subplots:
1. Chicago was the only one of the four teams left in the competition that had previously won an MLS Cup. With their elimination, there will be a brand new MLS Cup Champion this year.
2. Columbus goalkeeper, Will Hesmer, used to be a back up for the Chicago Fire, amazing to see what he has become. Additionally, with Columbus in teh MLS Cup Final, Hesmer will be playing in the Cup Final on his birthday--pretty cool that one potential present might be hoisting the Cup.
3. Chicago fan favorite (and Chicago area native) Brian McBride's early career was spent with Columbus who hoped the former U.S. International would rejoin the Crew (although a testimonial match certainly seems likely at Columbus).
I just hope that the Western Conference Finals between Real Salt Lake and NY Red Bulls (geez I just can stomach that notion) is as entertaining.