Things can get pretty weird here in the American soccer world.
Our soccer pyramid is more like a lopsided blob with a couple of leagues sprinkled here and a few more sprinkled over there, and, wait, what’s that? We lost a league? C'est la vie. Sir Minty is a very real mascot for one of the most well-attended clubs in MLS. And we have a team named after a giant fire in Chicago that killed several hundred people, for goodness’ sake. So, yeah, things get weird.
That’s why we’re introducing After Dark, a column where we bring you the latest absurdities from around American soccer.
Why After Dark? Well, with domestic games kicking off at various times all across the United States, #MLSAfterDark, #NWSLAfterDark, and #USLAfterDark have become synonymous on social media with the chaos that tends to reign supreme in late-night matches. Here at Backheeled, we’re now capturing some of that same After Dark energy and bringing it straight to your fingertips.
Down below is a sampling of this past week’s quirks. Let’s get weird.
Look, I’m not going to bury the lede here: a team named Sharktopus FC played (and won) in the second round of U.S. Open Cup qualifying earlier this week. That’s right, Sharktopus FC. We’re talking about a hybrid shark and octopus combination here, and likely one with a truly fearsome set of ocean-related abilities. Their badge is a…well…it’s a sharktopus. Take a look for yourself:
There’s some stiff competition for this title, but this Seattle-based team might just have the best badge and name combination in American soccer.
Now, as if things couldn’t get any better, a contestant from a past season of the Netflix reality dating show “Love is Blind” plays for Sharktopus.
Long live the U.S. Open Cup. Long live Sharktopus FC.
A 13-year-old pro?
What was I doing at 13? I was binging sports talk radio in my room after school. What is Da’vian Kimbrough doing at 13? He’s playing professional soccer.
Over the weekend, Kimbrough became the youngest person in U.S. history to play in a competitive, professional soccer game thanks to a three-minute cameo for Sacramento Republic. That’s a second record for Kimbrough, who became the youngest professional athlete in American team sports history when he signed for the USL Championship club in August.
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this situation, likely due to the fact that I was binging Arizona Sports 98.7 FM at 13 rather than training to be a professional athlete at 13. Is there part of this that feels a little PR-y? Sure. And yet here I am, feeding into that PR machine. Here’s to hoping that the Republic take good care of him and continue to find smart ways to integrate Kimbrough into the professional game.
Pat Noonan loves the Shield
FC Cincinnati’s rise from MLS bottom-feeders to one of the league’s premier teams has been nothing short of incredible. After claiming the Supporters’ Shield — America’s favorite trophy name that includes an apostrophe — over the weekend, Cincinnati officially became the best team in this year’s MLS regular season.
Each year when a team wins the Shield in MLS, it reignites a debate: is the regular season-rewarding Shield the league’s most prestigious trophy or is MLS Cup – the cherry on top of playoff success – king?
The general public sides with the Cup. I get it, American sports fans are hard-wired to love playoffs as much as life itself. I’ll admit, though, I’m squarely on the side of the Supporters’ Shield. Even with a perilously unbalanced schedule, it still gives us a better read on the league’s best team compared to a hot run of form across a handful of playoff games. Apparently, I’m now joined by FC Cincinnati manager Pat Noonan on the side of the Shield.
“My own opinion of this has changed,” the Cincinnati manager said earlier this week. “I think [the Supporters’ Shield] has now surpassed the MLS Cup in terms of relevancy.”
Sure, I’m happy to have you aboard, but we’ve gotta be smarter about this, Pat. It’s awfully convenient that the manager of the team that currently holds the Shield has suddenly had a change of heart about which trophy really matters more, isn’t it? And even I, as one of the world’s biggest Shield truthers, wouldn’t come close to saying that it’s passed MLS Cup in terms of pure relevancy. Do you get a giant inflatable trophy for winning the Shield? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
I hate to say it, but the optics from Noonan do more harm than good for Team Shield. Let’s try to get ahead of this thing for next year’s Supporters’ Shield winner, yeah?
Lorenzo Insigne Tracker
It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on how things are going with Lorenzo Insigne and Toronto FC! At this point, we know they’re eliminated from playoff contention, but I’m sure they’re using the rest of this season to build team chemistry that will help them improve next year.
Oh, no. John Herdman and his AirPod won’t stand for this.
It’s probably better for you to cash your checks a little further away from the fans next week, Lorenzo.
Former Toronto FC DP Tracker
Sure, things aren’t going great for Insigne and Toronto. But let’s check in on one of their former Designated Players: Yeferson Soteldo. Things have to be going better for him.
Oh, no. He’s standing on the ball in the middle of the game in Brazil and getting shoved to the ground. Cool, cool, cool.
Even with that clip coming all the way from Brazil, there’s some After Dark energy in it, I’ll tell you that much.
Predictions, predictions, predictions!
Every year, MLS asks a group of us to predict where each team will finish at the end of the regular season. It’s a fun exercise that totally doesn’t set us up to get absolutely torched by teams and players on social media when we inevitably get a team or two (or 12) wrong after not getting to watch preseason games because they aren’t being broadcasted or being privy to the future to factor in every move across multiple transfer windows.
Like I said, we have fun.
Anyway, after clinching the top spot in the Western Conference this past weekend, St. Louis City have been taking their justified victory lap with a few, well-placed dunks on those of us that had them finishing at or near the bottom of the West. Oh, look, there I am!
I was clearly wrong about St. Louis, who have been much better and more cohesive in their expansion season than basically anyone would’ve guessed. But maybe, just maybe, instead of dunking on MLS’s panel of predictors, they should be thanking us. We’re just out here providing motivation, according to St. Louis striker Samuel Adeniran!
See something that has After Dark energy? Send it to us on social media @Backheeled or drop it in the comments below.