Oh Seattle, how I love to hate you.
I saw a boxing match years ago with a British heavyweight Herbie Hide (the WBO champion) vs Riddick Bowe – a man mountain most famous for his epic trilogy with Evander Holyfield. Herbie Hide was best described as a peppy little spitfuck, fast, small, not terribly strong for a big time Heavyweight. In boxing terms he was good enough to become a minor champion but when push comes to shove, he was just slap fighting against Bowe and wound up on his ass six times in the fight. SIX TIMES.
Every time he went down he came gamely bag, swarming on Bowe like the proverbial Taladagan spider monkey and Bowe would just take his time, pick his spot and Herbie Hide was back on his ass again. He was so game, that the referee just let him keep going.
Since 2009, Seattle’s game-winning goals against the Wizards/Sporting came in 76′ (2009), 92+ (2010), 78 (2010), 93+ (2011), 92+ (2011), 94+ (2013)…
Apparently we are the peppy little spitfucks. Sporting Kansas City’s cardio kids just work and work and work and work and then Seattle beat us. But so many times? So many times. Unlike Herbie Hide though — we’ve been in these fights. Enough so that ‘curse’ is a word that is being thrown around in some quarters, but what of the genesis? Where did this curse start?
Dialing back to 2009 the Seattle Sounders first home defeat came at the hands of the Kansas City Wizards. We beat them at Qwest field, 1-0 and they had Kasey Keller sent off in the 18th minute for a red card outside the area.
Like a genuine obsessive looking for a black cat in a ballpark I went back to 2009 and watched that game. The red card was probably harsh but one of those where the law might just be made to look a bit of an ass. With Keller racing towards the top of the area to close down Claudio Lopez, Lopez lifts the ball at the last second and instinct takes over and Keller handles. Was the ball going in? Probably … and that is an automatic red card. While tough (as it was for Dan Kennedy this past weekend) those are the rules.
Ben Dragovon came into the game and was soon beaten by a ferocious Davy Arnaud strike. No longer perfect in their perfect home and perfectly atop the Western Conference standings the team invented kicking our asses mercilessly had their first big blemish. He never played again. We have never beaten the Sounders since. ‘Drago’ became a black cloud of doom, he was on the bench for Toronto FC’s 5-0 loss to the Metrostars in 2009 that left Toronto outside of the playoffs on the last game of the season – a defeat so hilariously unexpected that its still laughed at today, the Metrostars were so beyond bad it wasn’t even funny.
If Kasey Keller hadn’t been sent off that day, Dragovon would never have had a start, never would have clocked a 100% losing record, maybe he would have breezed onto the pitch in a US Open Cup game and been a hero for day, maybe been the guy that helped knock the Wizards out of that very same competition the year later. Instead he was nowhere when Sebastien Le Toux knocked in another later winner in the 89th minute. 89th!!!!
The Sounders won the cup, Dragovon failed a medical with the Austin Aztex and retired.
Could this be a curse he laid at our feet? The curse of the Dragovon? The good news is he is with the Seattle Sounder’s PDL team as a coach. He might be there for the next 40 years for all we know. It sounds right doesn’t it? Dragovon you need to play and win a game and free us from this burden of bitterness, this yolk of spite… or maybe, we need to play Jon Kempin against the Sounders and have him get sent off, or take a pipe to his knee as a sacrifice. Worth a shot right?
It sure helps to have a scapegoat or two when things go wrong, no matter how irrational.
Or Gasp …. maybe Sigi Schmidt just has Peter Vermes number so badly that he just can’t get his butt up off the canvas? Maybe there is another curse candidate out there I am not seeing. Something obvious that is staring me right in the face. Oh right … the curse of Tyson Wahl. Unprotected and scorned.
I’m still going with the Dragovon.
Gotta blame somebody right?
Tonight FC Kansas City kick off the inaugural NWSL season. Women’s Pro-Soccer is starting up again in the USA for the third time, and ever since the announcement I’ve been wrangling with a million ideas. As a guy who covers the game – more so on the ‘Kick the Ball’ podcast than here these days – it raised questions. How cover a team I barely know? How do I talk about women’s football when I barely understand what is and isn’t acceptable play.
It isn’t that I am one of those ‘women shouldn’t play sport’ guys that dominated the sports scene when I was a boy and the women’s game started to emerge in the UK. I wanted this – I wanted the game to exist and I was sad that WPS had no team in Kansas City. I wanted my daughters to grow up knowing female athletes, knowing that it wasn’t just a male thing to compete athletically. The doubts and questions persisted though …. Would the league survive? Who will it be marketed to? What kind of atmosphere will we get at a High School stadium? Will the grass be grass? Will there be grid lines. Can I interview Lauren Sessleman without checking her out? Will KC get behind the team? And on and on and on …
Every question raised doubts about the longevity of the league; the ability of local owners the Likens and Brian Budzinksi to keep it going before I’d ever heard the game plan. Local soccer people, journalists, public figures were whispering in Twitter DMs and privately in my ear that this is all doomed. That women’s football will fail. That this is the last chance for women’s soccer. WPS didn’t learn the lessons it should have. It is unsustainable. So many sentences starting “I love soccer but …” “I really want this to work but ….” “This is important for women but…..”
Where is the advertising? Where is the buzz, the hype? … Should the Kansas City Cauldron embrace FC Kansas City? Questions and doubts circling, and circling me on a journalistic level, on a business level, in terms of sustainability and the future. Did it all come together too quickly?
All these smart soccer people on one hand saying “This is great let it happen” while backhandedly and privately saying “It won’t work … it will fail ..”. Far away from the Highbury I loved, and far from the heralded and beloved Sporting Park … can it work?
My father moved to Scotland in 1985, and my summer and Easter holidays were taken in the Highlands. Summer was fun. Easter? The weather was crap, but it was football season and the first thing I did when I got up there was to check the football fixtures. We took a drive to Aberdeen, still a ‘big club’ after the recent successes of Alex Ferguson. It was the most miserable ninety minutes I can remember. Freezing rain right off the North Sea hit us in the face continually during a dour game and the grumpy crowd sat almost it a defiant silence, unable to support the wretched performance on the field in the face of mother nature’s onslaught. It was little different the next time we tried it out. The following year, my willingness to go to a game was tested. Aberdeen was pure misery, my father wanted to go and see Brechin City.
I’d never heard of them.
We pulled up outside the main stand (literally – bumper to the wall), paid and walked into a stadium that was so disorientingly simple that I felt like I was the only ‘real football fan in it’. What the heck were we doing here? Down one side of the pitch there was a hedge, behind one goal a mud bank, the other had 10 steps of terrace with a hint of cover and the main grandstand was barely wider than the caravan parked next to it ….. yes, a stadium that included a hedge and a trailer. My dad quipped that this was the dead center of Brechin … he must have sensed my disdain and didn’t wait for me to hint that I needed a punch line. The graveyard is on the other side of the hedge. He laughed, and pig snorted doing so.
I was in hell.
My Dad decided that we should sit in the (not very) grand stand. An old man greeted us on the way in and we handed him a couple of pounds for the pleasure of sitting. The wooden bleacher seats were nothing to write home about, but some of them had thick comfortable leather cushions on them and we picked a couple and got comfortable. The old man approached us again, “seats with cushions are for season ticket holders”. We stood up, he paused “you can get a seat with a cushion for an extra 50 pence.”. My Dad fished through the change in his pockets and upgraded us for the second time since we entered the stadium, I couldn’t help laughing.
Brechin City’s Glebe Park
At half time, the home support walked halfway around the stadium to stand behind the other goal. We went to the trailer for cups of tea and bars of chocolate. We watched a game I cannot remember, and afterwards asked my Dad what “division” Brechin were. Scottish First …. “one step below the Premier League?”. HOW! A crowd of 151 people, a face in the ‘crowd’ competition winner in the Match Day Programme with one face in it. It was still better than Aberdeen, closer than Montrose and Inverness. Whenever I was in Scotland we trekked to Glebe Park, and after a few more visits … I started to care. Sometime early in the 2004/2005 Brechin drew Heart of Midlothian in the League Cup. It was my first Cup game at Brechin (I’d lived in the US since 1998…) – I wasn’t quite prepared for all the throngs of Hearts fans sitting in the new stand behind the goal.
When Brechin scored to level the game, I was up on my feet cheering amidst a sea of angry Hearts fans and my Dad was suddenly the one in hell, he tried pulling me back into my seat by my coat, but he didn’t know me that well. While the home support had retreated to the crappy end of the stadium (sorry…) I was an island of one and much heckling and banter took place throughout the rest of the game. Hearts pinched a goal at the death to win and I left feeling rather proud of the minnows I once looked down upon so fiercely. I didn’t need 40,000 fans around me, or marble halls, or international players … Once I’d gotten used to my environment, the game took back over and that was what I was there for. To watch a game, and hopefully watch Brechin win.
My early relationship with Brechin wasn’t much different than my early days at CommunityAmerica Ballpark watching the Kansas City Wizards. I didn’t take long to get used to the picnic type atmosphere of the Berm and the weirdos in the Parking lot tailgating. I quickly became one of them, and the truth is while people whined about the Wizards and their venue, I never had a bad time at CAB. I enjoyed the games, had some great times and learned to love a team that the rest of American soccer seemed so eager to kill off. Of course you know how life as a Sporting KC fan has changed but my relationship to the team hasn’t. In the end I go to watch a game, and hopefully watch Sporting win. No different to Brechin City, no different to Arsenal, and hopefully one day no different to FC Kansas City.
That is all it boils down to for me right now. Tonight I’m hooking up with my wife and a group of friends and we’ll go sit and watch some women play a game. If I go often enough, I’ll forget the stadium, the grid lines, and as I get to know the players … start to go to see them win, to offer them my support. From the San Siro, Wembley, Nou Camp to CommunityAmerica Ballpark, Victoria Road, and Glebe Park I feel like I’ve run the gauntlet .. and at the end of the day none of it matters. You either love the game or you don’t, and if you do the extra stuff eventually becomes background noise. Sure there are optimal circumstances, perfect stadiums but do you need them to love this game? 10,385 at CAB frequently seemed to think otherwise.
That background noise, that we ‘smart’ soccer fans and writers spend so much time on, the business, the economics, the merchandising and advertising. It just gets in the way of what makes sport great. The ability to go out and watch a game and be entertained. Leaving “all that other stuff behind” when I realized it had gotten its hooks in has me excited to simply go and watch the sport I love live with some friends on summer evenings. I have extra chances to do so …. gender and economics, that really has little to do with it.
Don’t let any of it get in the way … at the end of the day The Game is the game and if you give it a chance it’ll set its hooks in and you’ll never stop going. If people allow that to happen NWSL will survive, all you have to do is buy a ticket, grab a beer and enjoy.
Tickets for tonight’s games are now sold out, but you can call FC Kansas City for future games, prices start at a very friendly $10 and there are no fees.
Tonight, the Seattle Sounders take on Santos in the CONCACAF Champions League Semi Final. They have done rather well for themselves and should give themselves a hefty old pat on the back. They should be proud win, lose, or draw … but I have to say, I don’t really give a damn.
I have a documented history of dislike when it comes to the Sounders. I admit it; I’m biased and spiteful … nothing about them at all makes me want to support them in their endeavors tonight; in fact, I am quite likely to tune into the game tonight and laugh as they capitulate, and I really hope they do. There are those around MLS and American Soccer circles who will bristle at this idea: as all good little robotic MLS fans, I should champion my league and the country and all those that make up its glorious single entity. What is good for Seattle is, after all, good for everybody, right?
That is not why I watch sport.
I watch sport to get involved in the teams I love doing well, or failing as the case may be. I want them to triumph so I can sneer at people who don’t. I want bragging rights. I want to be a fan of the top dogs. When I get there, when Sporting Kansas City next raise a trophy over their heads, will I want to share that? Give part of it to supportive Real Salt Lake or New England fans? People we have little or no beef with? Fans whom I like?
Hell no. I won’t care if they rooted for us.
They can back us all they want, but at the end of the day, I’m still going to be that guy who supports a team who won the prize and they’ll be the losers frowning while I gloat and offer insincere platitudes. Somebody has to be the winner, and everybody else loses. That is sport, that is competition, and that applies to the CCL. If Seattle go on to win out, get to the final, triumph, they’ll get a slow hand-clap of respect from me for a job well done, but if I get behind them, do I get to share their triumph? I don’t. Will they thank me for the support? No. Will I revel in the triumphant success of MLS over LigaMX? No.
Do I want this league to succeed? Of course I bloody well do. It is the banal fallback, every time; I want MLS to win, so winning the CCL means you should do something you don’t want to do like root for Houston. To hell with Houston. I laughed when they plunged out of the CCL the same way they’ll laugh and point at Sporting KC when they next punt us out of the playoffs. In our stadium.
The same we Sporting KC fans are laughing at Chicago right now, the same way we are slightly bruised by the fact that they took at point at Sporting Park, the same way half the league laughs when Seattle drop out of the playoffs. Lets be honest, there are far more opportunities to get your hate on than there are to win, and winning when one of those other teams do so? You don’t share that. I least I can’t. I want Sporting Kansas City to be the team who wins the CCL the first time, next year. I don’t want Seattle fans, whom I find insufferable at times, to have ‘we invented winning the CCL’ bragging rights.
Does that make me a bad MLS fan? Nope, it just makes me me. Just like those fans of the US Men’s National Team that skip watching MLS are castigated as stupid by Bruce Arena or somehow unpatriotic are just doing their thing, or people who dote on MLS but cannot get into the English Premier League or the UEFA Champions League are. I know American fans of MLS who barely care about what the national team is doing. I’ll wager that as hateful as I can be, that there are a thousand different types of people motivated by different things who choose to support or not support teams, leagues, competitions or nations because of them.
I can understand the US Men’s National Team fan who doesn’t watch MLS, it isn’t always a great product. That shouldn’t be offensive. That fan has no inherent obligation to support the league to further the interests of his beloved U-S-A; some might say that is short-sighted but when you choose (or don’t choose ..) to follow your nation as a team, you don’t inherit all 19 MLS teams and the US Soccer pyramid as a by-product.
I can understand embracing the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, I love my MLS, but denying that the standards and drama of these competitions are way beyond MLS shouldn’t be met with scorn … ask MLS players if they would take a contract in the EPL at a Champion’s League team with a salary commensurate with the MLS pittance, how many would turn down the chance to test themselves against the best.
I can understand rejecting European leagues because they simply feel irrelevant: you don’t like Serie A’s fan whistling, the continental trend towards diving, or you don’t dig watching Wigan and Norwich city grind out a meaningless draw in the piss and rain. I get it.
Me? I choose to be a hater because it is the way I am wired. To hell with Seattle; when they lose, it feels like a victory. I love it, but beyond that … I care about Sporting Kansas City, first and foremost, and I feel little obligation to get behind any other team except for them in any competition. And for you MLS cheerleaders who take umbrage at this idea … I take equal offense at you trying to button-hole fan behavior, driven by the human condition, into a tidy mold of what you think a Major League Soccer or Soccer fan should be. I don’t see this subject as any different than rooting for Mexico in the World Cup because they are from CONCACAF, and you can argue it, but it’s subjective, emotional, and irrational because of it.
Just do your thing, and enjoy the game, however you like it served.
Now where is my Santos gear?
Jimmy Nielsen Photo courtesy Gary Rohman.
On March 27th 2010 Jimmy Nielsen played his first MLS match in a Wizard’s shirt at Community America Ballpark. Three years later I thought it’d be fun to look back on some of my outstanding memories and moments during this time.
#1 – “You can call me a F******g Idiot if you want”
Jimmy Nielsen came into Swope Park on the back of a lot of arguing, speculation and naysaying from fans. Danish second division? Danish League national team? Some time in England but not games? This guy was replacing popular Kevin Hartman and we’d never heard of him. He also had baggage, a gambling addiction and the nickname Casino Jimmy. Thad Bell, took out a camera for an interview towards the end asked Jimmy what his nickname should be …
Attitudes to Jimmy Nielsen changed in a heartbeat.
#2 – What no fries?
Generally things thrown from the stands onto the field are frowned upon, the reasons were made all too clear later on when Jimmy Nielsen learned what a flying bobble head can feel like. Rollback to an early Columbus Crew road game however and a sausage was lobbed out of the crowd hitting Jimmy on the head. Not good … Jimmy being Jimmy however picked it up, took a massive bite out of it and sent the remainder back the way it came. General consensus amongst fans Sporting KC and Columbus Crew fans that saw the whole thing? Badass!
#3 – Brave or just not that smart?
Nielsen’s shot stopping ability became apparent very quickly, what he doesn’t always manage to do with his hand he can often pull off with his feet and when limbs are out of the question .. how about using your face? Omar Cummings clear through on goal in the second game of the 2010 season, six yards out and Jimmy Nielsen flung himself at the ball with not a hell of a lot of self preservation in mind and saved it with his face. I can’t find a clip of the save online but it was the first of many MLS Save of the Week wins for Nielsen.
#4 – Manchester United
Beating Manchester United at Arrowhead was a great moment for the Wizards in a fairly miserable 2010 season, and the game had its drama with Jimmy Conrad being red carded. The outstanding image for me, other than Davy Arnaud trying to reverse the referees decision by pulling his arm down while he was holding the red card up, was Nielsen skipping off his line a few minutes early waving his hand in ‘book him ref’ fashion after he was challenged while making a save. On one hand, it showed how competitive he is, and how seriously he took the game but I often think if he hadn’t helped set the tone, that the referee may have gone a little easier on Jimmy Conrad.
#5 – Red Card
From one red card to another. June 9th 2011 and Sporting Kansas City opened then LIVESTRONG Sporting Park with a controversial 0-0 draw with the Chicago Fire. Controversial because of a challenge on Bravo in the box that was so obviously a penalty that it reportedly had MLS Commissioner on the phone with the USSF within seconds. The game was a frustration, the home faithful had to wait for the next home game for their win and celebration. The enduring image of the night was Nielsen off his line, handling a ball outside his area to prevent a sure goal and instantly sinking to his knees knowing full well that his night in goal was over. Somehow his anguish seemed to sum up that game perfectly.
#6 & #7 – The Tongue …. and his goalmouth theatrics
Jimmy Nielsen … when he is concentrating on the game … well his tongue … it never stops moving….
…. and if you keep your eyes on Jimmy while the play is up on the field you can’t fail to notice him living and breathing every moment of the action. If Sporting KC miss a good chance its not unusual for him to wind up face down on the floor in his own goal mouth. The two in tandem make him pretty entertaining at times.
#8 – Saves on saves on saves on saves
What more can you say? More clean sheets than a hotel? More Save of the Week awards than a um … really good goalkeeper? Goalkeeper of the year 2012, MLS All Star … on and on and on. Take the character, tongue flapping weirdness and sausage eating to one side and he’s still at top end of the MLS Goalkeeping roster. Maybe not the best in the league, but then he isn’t just a goalkeeper, he is a leader and captain.
#9 – Leadership
You can put a captains arm band on a player, it doesn’t make him a leader. It took a while for Jimmy Nielsen to get the black strap but he certainly had assumed the role of leadership much earlier. Where Kevin Hartman would aggressively remonstrate with his defenders, Nielsen is a much calmer character more apt to pop an arm around a defender’s shoulder when he has made a mistake and gently talk to him. Peter Vermes will take a lot of credit for the development of Besler, Myers and Sinovic – don’t discount the coach on the field. It was no surprise to me at all when he was made Captain.
#10 – Grace under Fire …
I guess you are getting the vibe that Jimmy Nielsen is popular. Kansas City soccer fans reacted with rage when an idiot in the South Stand threw an Omar Bravo Bobblehead Doll out of the South Stand striking him in the face. Blooded and bruised, it was a scary moment, one which could easily have cost him an eye if it had landed a fraction of an inch lower. It would have been easy to feed the beast and but Jimmy never did so, airing on the side of humor.
‘If he did that on purpose, he should try out for the Royals. He has a good arm.’
It is kind of the way he rolls, he doesn’t make excuses and he doesn’t condemn people or his team.
#11 — and finally…
The US Open Cup Final. What more can you see, he clowning around in the goal before Eddie Johnson punted the ball over the bar, running down field his arm pinwheeling by his side in celebration, picking up the first Silverware this town has seen in an eon and finally painting the wall?
Iconic moments for a man who has become a Sporting Kansas City icon. Certainly, and there will be more to come … and what does Jimmy think about the reminder that three years has passed since his first start?
@sporting_times Feels like yesterday. Heavy rain & 4-0.
— Jimmy Nielsen (@PumaNielsen1) March 28, 2013
I’m looking forward to the next three.
Sporting Kansas City kicked off the season with an indifferent performance that turned into an emphatic win. I was delighted, having traveled to Philadelphia for the game, it was brilliant to see a win. I enjoyed having a drink, enjoyed the city, enjoyed the banter with Union fans, and three points in the bag; however, since then it seems like the wheels have slowly but surely come off that high, leaving me stranded in a curious spot.
I am mired in indifference.
This is not something that should happen four games into a regular season, but in many ways this is a season of firsts for me as a Sporting fan. In 2011 I was just happy to see the team qualify for the playoffs, in 2012 I wasn’t entirely sure they would but I felt like it was a probability. For this season however doubt has become certainty. I am absolutely stone cold convinced that, barring some kind of calamity, we’ll be there at the end of the season. The narrative of the year is all about winning that MLS Cup.
With our eyes securely rooted on the end game and the postseason, we headed into game two. A defeat in Toronto. Fair enough, the formation might need a tweak or two, the defense is a little shaky but, ‘come on.. only two games in, no need to ring the alarm bells’, is the cry of the reasonable. I try to be reasonable. The defeat in Toronto is followed with an impotent performance to open Sporting Park for the season against the Fire, and an eerily familiar display in New England without Zusi and Besler; I once again find myself thinking … ‘there is plenty of time for Vermes to fix it’.
He can literally take months, and with the talent on this team it is worth taking that time. By the mid point in the season the engine might just be beginning to purr, and hopefully by the time the playoffs arrive we’ll be flying … all the way to the moment of destiny when Jimmy Nielsen holds that MLS Cup aloft and we get to paint the wall again; then again things may not go to plan … if they don’t, maybe we’ll just stumble into the playoffs, and boom, do it the hard way. Right? It isn’t like we play better at home than on the road anyway so who needs home field advantage. Jimmy can still lift the Cup … and hey it might be all the more sweet if we do what Houston have failed to do and win it in Los Angeles.
In my mind’s eye this has become the worst case scenario, aside from Sporting KC shitting the bed in the playoffs again. Limping into post season with the possibility of winning is there as the safety net just in case we never do figure out how to get service to Bieler. The team is earning points during these struggles, not many but probably enough that even if things don’t pick up that much – we are still playing in. On June 9th, 2011, I sat down with Don Garber, along with fellow bloggers Thad Bell and Andy Edwards and we had a private 40 minute Q&A. Playoff size and format questions came into the mix and Garber essentially said at the time that big playoffs were essential for the league as it was important that teams that were struggling still had something to play for after the season’s embryonic stages were over.
Important because fans in the US in most sports tend to bleed away from dire teams after a while. Important because it was a big deal for ticket sales. Important because MLS needed engaged, excited fans in stadiums and watching on TV in markets where their team is decidedly average or worse. It made sense then, and it still makes sense, at least in terms of MLS being one single entity, one business with franchises. It made sense to me, a Wizards fan that had never experienced any success other than the tongue in cheek heckling rights we held over Manchester United fans when the Wizards beat them at Arrowhead … with 10 men. It was the bright spot in a 2010 season that was illuminated by a predicted by nobody Birahim Diop brace when we were all out of striking options, and a 96th minute come from behind win over Houston.
What kept fans coming in a season which saw the beginning of the rebuilding program under Peter Vermes after Curt Onalfo was fired the prior season was hope. The playoffs were a dim dim light on the horizon that the team could chase and they chased it, and chased it, ultimately falling short. But it was there – if a couple of results had gone our way we would have been in the playoffs. Don Garber was right, I believed he was right, and for teams on the fringes of being decent the playoff format of 10 teams continues to be something that will keep teams and fans engaged.
For Sporting KC fans though? LA Galaxy fans? Ultimately Seattle, probably San Jose and a few other teams who surely will make the postseason … where is the urgency? What do the first 10-15 weeks of the season really mean if you can motor down the home stretch and clinch a spot? I find that at this particular time, for the first time, I’m so confident in Sporting that I can essentially write those weeks off. Sure the Supporter’s Shield is out there – many fans hold it in high enough esteem that the race for that particular trophy is big enough to get them up, but for those of us tuned in for MLS Cup or bust … well we can probably lose another 8-10 games and be just fine. The ‘race’ for the MLS Cup is little more than an amble right now for a few select teams and that is a problem, one distinct to the top end of the table, where engagement should be frantic and crazed, instead we have reasoned and patient.
If the big challenge for MLS over the next decade is building a TV audience that doesn’t just watch its own local team when they are in the hunt for something, regular season games need to mean more. That also draws in fans and builds atmospheres, organic rivalries, and for fans unable to attend games, it increases TV viewership. It might also stop a guy like me who lives and breaths this game from feeling just a bit more than disenfranchised by the wait to get to the real business … you know, when June comes and the season really starts.