Having watched two of the greatest goalkeepers the United States has ever produced square off in the final chapter of the annual Major League Soccer All-Star Game, the man whose team and stadium hosted the dramatic duel in front of a record crowd came to an unorthodox conclusion:
He loves the shootout.
In fact, while most of the Real Salt Lake players returned to practice Thursday in advance of their game at Chicago this weekend, owner Dave Checketts said he lobbied league commissioner Don Garber to reinstate the penalty shootout to resolve tied games in MLS -- something the league abandoned after its first four seasons of existence.
"If this doesn't make a case for the shootout being brought back, I don't know what does," Checketts said. "I said, 'Look at the people staying, standing, screaming.' It was a classic matchup of the two best Americans who have ever played that position, right here in our stadium. It was classic."
Certainly, the riveting duel between Everton's Tim Howard and Kasey Keller of the Seattle Sounders held the anxious attention of the 20,120 fans right until the very end, when Howard bested his former national-team mentor by acrobatically saving one final shot to deliver a victory for the Toffees.
But even Checketts acknowledged the league probably isn't going to follow his advice.
After all, soccer tradition around the world dictates that in league play, draws remain draws -- one consolatory point in the standings to each team -- and most purists equate deciding games with penalty kicks to deciding basketball games with free-throw shooting contests. Typically, penalty kicks decide games only when a winner is required, such as the championship of a tournament, and nobody around MLS has been lobbying for their reinstatement in league games.
Yet Checketts also owns the NHL's St. Louis Blues, and he believes he has seen penalty shootouts help in hockey.
"A lot of hockey games ended in ties, and everybody said you can't mess with traditional hockey," he said. "But let me tell you something: There's a five-minute overtime at the end of every regular-season game, and then a shootout, and no one leaves the building. No one. The winning team gets an extra point for winning in the overtime or the shootout, but both teams get a point for ending in a tie, and you know what? We haven't rocked the foundations of hockey. I don't think anybody's been hurt by it."
While Checketts basked in the glow of a successful All-Star week -- he hosted his fellow owners at his mountain estate the night before the game -- his players and coaches returned to work on what they hope will be a second-half surge into the playoffs for the second straight season. Midfielders Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson and Javier Morales were given the day off after their participation in the All-Star Game, but they're expected to return to practice today. Morales could be limited by the bruised calf he suffered late in the game, but the team doesn't believe the injury is serious enough to keep him from playing against the Fire.
Beyond that, Checketts reckoned that only one thing went wrong on the big night.
He had arranged to have four F-16 fighter jets roar over the stadium after the singing of the national anthem -- "it was going to be awesome," he said -- but they had to divert at the last moment because "some guy was circling the stadium in his Piper Cub" and couldn't move out of the jets' flight path fast enough.
Still, "I'm just proud of our fans," Checketts said. "That stadium, when every single seat is full and it's one of those beautiful summer nights, it's something special. It's kind of the fulfillment of what I'd always envisioned."
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