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LA 1 Pachuca 1 (Pachuca wins on penalties) Superliga 2007: El Gran Final

Pachuca ruined what could’ve been an awesome night for Chris Klein.   Chris Klein is the kind of blue-collar, thoroughbred player that is a moderately effective MLS player, but rarely fun to watch.  Just a few years ago he teetered on the edge of the national team due to his tireless work-rate, and decent size, speed and skills.  A couple of knee injuries rendered him too slow to compete at the international level and just a few months ago he seemed to be playing out his days on the team that Ellinger ruined, Real Salt Lake.  Enter impatient, train-wreck of a GM Alexi Lalas.  Lalas foolishly gave up two promising players in Nathan Sturgis and Robbie Findley for the aging Klein.  So Klein packs his bags and leaves the horrible team from the land of the Mormons to go to the horrible team that plays in the land of Posh and Becks, TomKat, and the glitz and glitter of LA.   After a few abysmal performances in the Galaxy’s midfield, LA manager Frank Yallop slotted Klein into the right back slot as a stop-gap measure following Chris Albright’s injury early in the season.

Forget the  pain of the knee surgeries, trades and seasons playing in KC in front of few fans.  The magic of the goal Chris Klein scored tonight is why you play the game.  It is why fans watch, even with one eye closed while enduring the painful touches of brick-footed Alan Gordon.  LA went down 1-0 in the first half on an own goal by Pete Vagenas.  From there, they chased the game.  They came agonizingly close to tying the score several times in the second half.  If not for the stellar play of Pachuca’s goalkeeper and some luck, the score would have been tied well before Klein’s heroics.  To be fair, LA goalkeeper Joe Cannon had to stand on his head a few times and the LA defender Troy Roberts cleared a ball off the line to keep Pachuca at 1.  Even so, as the game crept into stoppage time, I just felt a goal was coming.  Then came the moment.  A corner kick was poorly cleared, then sent back into the box, where Mike Randolph headed it off the crossbar.  The ball rebounded to Klein and sat in the air chest-high long enough for him to become poetry in motion, like Baryshnikov, and in one motion hit a picture-perfect bicycle kick, a chileno, into the top corner of the Pachuca goal.   The Galaxy players and fans went bananasandwhich.  It was awesome.  Video of the goal will be posted on http://superliga2007.com/ shortly.

Carlos Beltran, the referee, signaled the end of regular time a few short seconds later.   The teams traded chances in the two 15-minute overtime halves as several players from both teams were cramping, the worst of which was LA’s Harmse who looked liked a gremlin might crawl out of his quadricep muscle at any time.

Onto penalties.  Definitely the worst way to crown a champion.  Pachuca advanced past Houston in the semifinals by way of penalties.  After Pete Vagenas failed to atone for his own goal and missed LA’s first penalty, Pachuca went up 1-0, then 2-1.  Where was the Pete Vagenas who scored 4 of 4 penalties for the US in the 2000 Olympics?  Joe Cannon got about three yards off his line and saved the 3rd penalty before Chris Klein hit a penalty how you should–hard as snot–to level the score.  Both teams made their 4th penalties.  Pachuca missed their fifth.  Deputy captain Landon Donovan stepped up to the spot with a trophy on the line.  He went through his hideous thumb-kissing, genuflecting routine before getting stoned by Pachuca goalkeeper Alvarez.  It wasn’t a terrible penalty, but more conviction was required.

Onto sudden death penalties.  Pachuca made their first.  LA’s Abel Xavier missed.  LA’s only realistic chance to salvage what has been a terrible season will go begging.  I’m afraid this will also signal the end of Frank Yallop’s time in LA.  He never really had a chance with the ever-changing cast of players Lalas assembled and disassembled.  Yallop deserves better.

I’ve said it before, but the Superliga is a winner.  Competitive, fast-paced matches that will fuel the Mexico/US futbol rivalry.  Of course it would have been better if an MLS team won the trophy and $1 million.

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