Last Wednesday, on the day that David Beckham in an LA Galaxy kit appeared on the cover of the leading sports weekly in the United States (Sports Illustrated for those reading in Bristol, CT) a funny thing happened.
DC United lost to the Harrisburg City Islanders 1-0 in the US Open Cup.
Who are the Harrisburg City Islanders?
Beats me. But according to the Washington Post they are "a team on the third tier of the U.S. pro system" playing in the "the gentle hills of Amish country."
Is this the biggest upset in US soccer history? Depending on where you stand on the US upset of England in the 1950 World Cup it probably is, though I'm not well versed in the steep history of the US Open Cup. Think of it this way - imagine if a D-III school like the University of Chicago or the Catholic University of America defeated USC in football. Think Hoosiers. Think Mystery, Alaska. Think of something totally insane like that. Think something America can get behind.
Sure the US Open Cup isn't the FA Cup. But it's upsets like this that make (made) the FA Cup one of the, if not the most, important trophies in sports. It's upsets that make the NCAA tournament so great (remember nothing gets people bitching like the lack of upsets on the first few days of the tourney). Sports fans live for upsets. We live to root for the underdog. Those moments come along only a few times every few years, and when they do we can't wait to make a movie about it (see: State, Boise).
We are a country that loves the underdog (save foreign policy). After all part of the mystique (good and bad) of the American Dream is the underdog raising his/herself by ones own bootstraps, by beating the odds and building that house with a white picket fence and walk in closet.
And for a night somewhere in Pennsylvania, that happened. The underdog won. An upset occurred.
But at the same time here in lies the problem - the upset already happened. The game wasn't on national TV, so a nation didn't tune in to see a scrappy bunch of guys from the Harrisburg City Islanders defeat the mighty DC United. And if you're the MLS how do you promote something like this? A catch-22 eh, because the four morons on Around the Horn will bash the 'quality' of US club soccer. "IF A BUNCH OF SCRUBS FROM THE MIDDLE OF NO WHERE CAN BEAT AN mls TEAM, WHY WOULD I EVER WANT TO WATCH SUCH A PRODUCT?" - Big Ugly Head. "I couldn't agree more, Big Ugly Head! If that's how bad the 'professionals' are in America, I'm not going to tune in!" - Small Ugly Head... anyway you get the idea. The media will miss the point in all this.
Which is all a shame, because I'm sure this would have been a thrilling match to watch on TV. Early in the second half, Harrisburg City scored - imagine watching the next 40 minutes, with all the tension and delight that only a potential upset can bring. Could the Islanders hold off United?
For all the awareness David Beckham is going to bring to the MLS and soccer, the question remains how many people will actually become fans. Some will, there is no doubt about that, and the soccer community and support will continue to grow here in this country. But a match like last Wednesday night would probably have turned more people on to the game than David Beckham.