Four days before their final home game of the season, TFC split their squad for Tuesday's practice.
While reserve team players like Gabe Gala and part-time senior teamers like Abdus Ibrahim hit the field for a full-fledged practice, other members of the main roster worked indoors with strength coach Paul Winsper.
Tuesday practices haven't always been this way, but TFC hasn't lost since they switched to this routine two weeks ago, so head coach John Carver is reluctant to change back.
"We're trying to follow the pattern that's gotten us four points out of six," Carver said as the reserves ran through drills under a grey skies Tuesday morning. "It should be six points out of six, if I'm being honest."
The last half of that quote, of course, refers to the two points TFC squandered when a Julius James' foul led to Kenny Cooper's injury time penalty kick, which he knocked past Greg Sutton to tie Saturday night's game in Dallas.
No penalty and TFC has 34 points, tying them with DC United.
Instead they're stuck at 32, the same total as the almighty L.A. Galaxy, though TFC outranks Beckham's boys in the overall standings thanks to a pair of springtime victories over L.A.
Still, with two ties bracketing their win in New York, TFC has now earned points in three straight games. It's their most successful stretch since their six-game unbeaten streak last spring, and cause for celebration when contrasted with the mediocrity that defined their summer.
TFC's recent success, modest as it is, prompts one obvious question:
Where have these performances been all year?
Carver attributes the team's improved play to a few factors, like Danny Dichio's health and Chad Barrett's growing familiarity with his new teammates.
He also says the approaching off-season gives players a little more incentive to perform. With Seattle set to enter the league next season, MLS teams can only protect 11 players from the expansion draft, while making the rest of their squad available. Beyond that, Carver has spoken openly for months about upgrading at several positions before next season starts, and thinks the looming reality of job insecurity makes the team's incumbent players hustle a little harder.
"I've been delighted (with the team's recent play)," he said. "They're playing for their contracts and they know that."
A Ruud Awakening
Former L.A. Galaxy manager Ruud Gullit visited Los Angeles over the weekend. While there he conducted an interview with Reuters in which he accused the more established American sports of conspiring to limit soccer's popularity in the U.S. He thinks this conspiracy is powerful enough to nullify any boost in popularity David Beckham might bring to stateside soccer.
Here's the money quote.
"David is more than just a football player and I think he does extremely well to give football here a lift," Gullit told Reuters. "I think [American soccer organizers] are afraid of football because it's so popular everywhere around the world. I think they will just control it so it doesn't become more popular than their American sports.
"I have my doubts if they really want to make [soccer] popular. Some sports already have had a bit of a dive so they don't want American football to become less popular, or basketball or baseball."
I didn't witness the interview but I assume Gullit said all that with a straight face.
The idea that American football outlets would need to engage in a conspiracy to contain soccer's popularity is laughable.
This summer CBS agreed to pay the Southeastern conference $55 million annually for the broadcast rights to SEC football and basketball games, then in August ESPN offered a further $150 million a year to show SEC games on cable.
If you live in the U.S. Midwest you can watch all the SEC action you can stomach, plus College Sports TV on digital cable and the Big Ten Network on basic cable.
Add it all up and I can only conclude that sports like football and college basketball are as popular as they've ever been in the U.S. and aren't exactly worried about Major League Soccer siphoning away fans.
The NHL, maybe, but football's doing just fine. Maybe Gullit would understand that if he had coached into autumn.
Before I continue, I'll acknowledge that Gullit is not the only guy who suspects there's a conspiracy to keep soccer out of the (North) American sports mainstream. Some Star readers have accused me of being part of that conspiracy myself, so to a certain extent I understand where Gullit's coming from.
But as a guy who has interviewed Ruud, I can't reconcile his words with his refusal to discuss Beckham when I visited an L.A. Galaxy practice in mid-April. I was there working on a story about The Beckham Effect, but Gullit deflected every question I asked about his star player, electing instead to talk about the team.
From a coaching standpoint I understand his reluctance to single out individuals. I would also understand if he felt that a true soccer fan -- and anyone trying to become one -- pays attention to the entire game, and not just one player. But from a marketing standpoint everyone associated with the Galaxy understands by now that Beckham pays the bills, and when reporters arrive from out of town, it's usually because they want to talk about him.
Gullit knew the drill in April but he refused to do the dance, but now in October he's suddenly concerned about Beckham's ability to "give football here a lift."
-- Morgan Campbell