- Robert Jonas Center Line Soccer

I have a confession to make, one that will certainly not endear me to my fellow San Jose Earthquakes supporters. Just days removed from the Quakes heartbreaking loss to the Colorado Rapids in the 2010 Eastern Conference championship last November, I was in Toronto for the MLS Cup Final secretly wearing the jersey of the enemy under the three or so outer layers of clothing required to survive the wicked Lake Ontario winds. Yes, shamefully, I donned the powder blue away shirt, with its fine burgundy details and embroidered crest, of the same Rapids team that eliminated San Jose the weekend prior.

I wasn’t settling a bet with a Colorado fan late on that Sunday night. Nor was I partaking in some strange masochistic ritual intended to humiliate me for siding with the losing team from San Jose. I would imagine if either scenario were the case, I could be easily forgiven. However, I was instead investigating a peculiar phenomenon I had experienced for three years running in conjunction with the MLS postseason tournament — a mysterious correlation related to the very purchase of that Rapids jersey early in 2010. When the flurry of pre-game predictions from previewing pundits overwhelmingly tapped FC Dallas to walk away with the title that evening, I also thought that this would be my chance to at last lay to rest any notions that I was some sort of soccer oracle. As dark a horse in the preseason MLS conversation as we’ll ever see, Colorado surely wouldn’t win the 2010 MLS Cup, would they?

Before you reach for your mouse to click a link over in the sidebar to a more sensible blog posting, lend me a minute of your time to fill you in on my strange story. First off, I am a certifiable and unabashed soccer jersey hound. I can’t wait to see what the club I’ve followed since childhood, Portsmouth FC, is going to unveil each summer ahead of every new league season. Think back to the halcyon days of grammar school when your mother would take you to the mall to buy clothes for the new school year, and how much fun it was to find a wardrobe that would make you the coolest kid on the playground — that’s me to this day wondering each summer what the Pompey kit is going to look like. In this brave new world of community closeness brought forth by the internet, I can now share these moments with family back in England and plead expectantly for them to send the latest jersey offering to me on the far reaches of our western shores.

However, it doesn’t stop at Portsmouth or even at my favorite MLS team the Earthquakes. My eyes are always wandering over the new apparel landscape hunting for other jerseys I might add to my collection. When on vacation, I’ll often purchase a kit of the local team as a fond reminder of my travels. Friends and family indulge my polyester proclivity by bringing gifts back home from far flung global destinations. Here in the Bay Area, I fall prey to local outfitters willing to sell me their wares for the right bounty.

For me, the siren call that I can not ignore emanates from the local branch of Marshalls. For those not in the know, Marshalls is a chain of discount clothiers that offers out-of-season and seconds apparel at embarrassing low prices (no, they provide me no compensation for saying that) with a healthy selection of discount rack clearance items. At my local store, that rack is often home to various soccer jerseys from leagues and national teams the world over. At various times over the years I’ve seen these unusual treasures from Dinamo Kiev, Fiorentina, Locomotiv Moscow, Espanyol, Newcastle, Boca Juniors, Club America, and countless others. Closer to home, I’ve been fortunate to find all manner of representation from Major League Soccer — the league I have pledged to support and fully adopt as my own.

In a very predictable measure of the time of year, in much the same way the return of the swallows to Mission Capistrano celebrates the arrival of Spring, Marshalls becomes the curator of the previous season’s unsold MLS jerseys in early March. This year the flock of expected jerseys must still be tucked in ratty adidas-branded cardboard boxes bounding down the interstates toward my California store for I have yet to see them in the store, but I have faith they’ll be there in due time. When they do arrive, I’ll be ready to leaf through these orphaned jerseys to find another gem for my collection. Pretending the occasion is as eventful as my birthday and deserving of a gift, I always celebrate the annual kickoff of the new MLS season with a new jersey to hang in my closet, to wear at the gym, and to lounge in around the house.

So, why did I go off on this narrative tangent describing my crazy obsession with soccer jerseys? Simply, I am beginning to believe that I have the power to predetermine the next MLS Cup Champion. At this time last year, on a discount rack featuring jerseys from no less than ten league representatives, I focused my attention down to that very powder blue Colorado Rapids jersey that I took with me to Toronto last November. Given the stunning results from BMO Field in that match, I am now convinced that it was no coincidence that Conor Casey and crew lifted the MLS Cup high into the chilly air. The simple act of exchanging $20 with a disinterested salesperson in an emotionless strip-mall department store for an irregular fitting soccer jersey had predetermined the champion of Major League Soccer. In an eerie side note not even the folks at a TLC reality show could have scripted, a final decision between the Rapids selection and a worthy FC Dallas candidate came down to my discomfort with the color red. If instead a white-and-blue hooped FCD away jersey had been available, I may have very well changed the fate of that franchise at the expense of the Rapids success.

One point of reference does not make a pattern, so why am I convinced of my purchasing prognosticating power? The same cause-and-effect relationship occurred in each of the two previous seasons.

Way back in recent history when Hillary Clinton was poised to capture the Democratic nomination for president, before an upstart senator from Illinois crashed the party, I succumbed to a bright yellow Columbus Crew jersey on the Marshalls discount rack that I knew I could only ever wear in fine company when featuring as my recreational soccer team’s goalkeeper. Just weeks after that plucky Illinois senator rode a tide of momentum to be elected the 44th President of the United States, the Crew were celebrating their own amazing victory in the 2008 MLS Cup Final, and I chuckled at the thought that I could easily blend into the subsequently deserved (but never realized) ticker-tape parade through the streets of Columbus without needed to stop first at the team gift shop.

Four months later, as the temperatures in the Bay Area finally crept back above 60 degrees and the clocks were diligently sprung forward in effort to save daylight (that caused me to oversleep an important 8 a.m. rec. game kick-off), I did not hesitate to buy a claret-and-cobalt jersey with smart-looking yellow striping representing Real Salt Lake to add to my collection. Granted, it was slim pickings in that 2009 selection — maybe a hangover from the recessionary times of the previous year — with that lone RSL jersey playing the role of a children’s book Waldo among a sea of David Beckham branded L.A. Galaxy jerseys, shorts, hats, t-shirts, polos, etc. Truth be told, the choice was made for me as though by divine intervention, for there was no way I was going to buy a Galaxy jersey. Additionally, I am sure only the true believers of the Beehive state thought Real Salt Lake would go on to capture the MLS crown that season, but I will attest from my vantage point high above Qwest Field in November 2009 that they did. My post-match chuckling reaction from the year before shifted subtly toward a nervous laughter that night in Seattle, as I was hit with the realization that a chance jersey-purchase lightning bolt had struck twice.

Fast forward to the present, where MLS First Kick between the Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders is fast approaching, and I feel the weight of a heavy decision befalling me. Marshalls has given me a reprieve for the time being, perhaps not aware that the new season is starting so early as compared to years past, but one morning very soon the discount store will present a colorful collection of clothing candidates creating a cacophony calling for my carefully calculated culling. A bead of sweat develops on my forehead just thinking about the awesome responsibility handed to me by the masters of soccer fate. I feel for the teams that won’t be represented this year — I honestly wish you all the best in your indomitable quest for MLS Cup glory in 2011 — and hope for your 2012 fortunes you underperform this season in merchandise sales. Still, I promise to bravely soldier on and perform that which destiny has assigned to me. I won’t shy away from the pressure my decision entails.

And I discreetly cross my fingers that for once, I find an Earthquakes jersey beckoning.

Robert Jonas is a writer and podcaster at Center Line Soccer and a frequent contributor to CSRN’s Around The League MLS show. He can always be reached on his twitter @robertjonas.

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