The Main Event
For those of you who are soccer fans and DVD Talk readers, we've got one for you. History of MLS Cup tries to advertise for Major League Soccer and educate about its ultimate prize, the Cup. This is a polarizing subject for a couple of reasons. First, soccer, better known as football throughout the world, is only so popular with North Americans. Second, even among rabid soccer fans, Major League Soccer is not the premier league in the world and may not be the preferred league even of fans in the United States. These two factors make my review extremely relative; you'll either love this DVD or not care.
The show gets right to the point and never veers from its path. It immediately starts discussing the first MLS Cup final, which was in October of 1996. (The final features the two remaining teams from the league playoffs, and it is a one match contest.) Using a lot of broadcast TV footage of the match, the DVD recaps the important moments. Narration explains what is being shown and how that match figured into the history of the (then fledgling) MLS. On-screen interviews, most made specifically for this DVD, fill in the gaps and give a more personal account from the players who were there. A fade to black leads to the highlights from the next year's match final, and the process is repeated for each year until the 2006 Cup has been covered. Then, the show ends.
The direction of the show is fine. Pumping music, predictably, is used throughout. This changes the experience from watching these games live, as does the use of slow-mo and the editing that repeats the best moments. That's fine, though; I think fans will really enjoy the enthusiasm with which game-winning goals and saves have been edited. You get to relive all of these moments in quick succession (all 11 games are covered in 90 minutes), and that will thrill a lot of soccer fans.
Since this history is all pre-David Beckham, other stars are concentrated on, like Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu. The on-screen interviews include current and former players like Cobi Jones, Jeff Agoos, John Harkes, Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Dwayne de Rosario, and Pat Onstad, and coach Bruce Arena. The only "expert" (meaning non professional) that the DVD's producers found to comment on the MLS Cup is Eric Wynalda of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. I had to throw that in there because my buddy works at the Hall. What's up, Mike?
The DVD talks up the Cup a little too much; it may sound desperate, really trying to push the idea that the league is huge when anyone who lives in the US knows it's not. The narrator keeps saying that the MLS Cup is the highest achievement in American soccer. I'm sorry, but is there supposed to be some competition? Is that supposed to be a big deal? That's like suggesting that somebody out there can challenge Larry the Cable Guy for America's biggest redneck.
For those of you who don't know, Major League Soccer is a new league in North America trying to compete with not only European football leagues but with the other professional sports leagues in America. It currently consists of 14 teams, and, at the time of this writing, the 2008 playoffs are taking place. Almost everything you'll hear in the mainstream media about MLS is actually about Beckham, who plays for the LA Galaxy, and his wife, Posh Spice.
For those of you who need a refresher, here's a summary of the MLS Cup winners (as covered in the show):
1996: DC United
1997: DC United
1998: Chicago Fire
1999: DC United
2000: Kansas City Wizards
2001: San Jose Earthquake
2002: LA Galaxy
2003: San Jose Earthquake
2004: DC United
2005: LA Galaxy
2006: Houston Dynamo
I don't know why this still happens in this day and age, or what the MLS is thinking letting such an important DVD be printed this way, but this DVD is not enhanced for widescreen TV's. The feature is presented in 16x9, the aspect ratio of our time, but anyone with a widescreen TV will have to zoom in on the image to get it to fit their frame. This makes the image blurrier than it should be. This is disappointing, because the video quality, other than that, is good.
The colors are bright and the image is sharp. The bright, green fields and flashy uniforms of Major League Soccer lend themselves well to upconverting, and I really enjoyed watching this on my 720p TV. Much of the footage from TV broadcasts looks just as good as the documentary footage shot for the program. Occasionally, however, old TV interviews look noticeably more blurry. The image is artifact free throughout.
There are two audio options on the disc: English 2.0 and Spanish 2.0. Both sound fine. Most of the disc consists of narration or on-screen interviews, but sometimes there is ambient sound from the TV broadcasts, which sounds just like it would if you were watching it live. The dialogue is all crystal clear, thankfully, and none of the accents are so thick that you won't be able to understand it. There is a lot of driving music on the soundtrack, too, which is intended to accentuate the excitement the game recaps are supposed to generate. The music could have been aided by 5.1, but since most of the disc is people talking at you, the lack of surround is forgivable.
The Spanish track doesn't work as well as it should because everything isn't translated. Only the narration and the on-screen interviews made for this DVD have the male, Spanish narrator translating them; all of the broadcast dialogue stays in English. Sorry, Spanish speakers. And there are no subtitles.
The Special Features
There are a few special features on the disc.
The first is called "Game Winning Moments." Frankly, this is the A.D.D. version of the main feature. It consists of nothing more than broadcast footage of the winning moments (goals, saves) from every MLS Cup. You already have a better, extended view of all of these moments in the main documentary. You can choose to watch any one or play them all. They are 16x9 and not enhanced, and they last about eight minutes altogether.
The second is called "Exclusive Access." It consists of locker room footage from various teams at the Cup game, before, during, and after it. You see the teams pump themselves up and celebrate after they win the game. The subjects include DC United from 1999, the Chicago Fire from 2000, the Kansas City Wizards from 2000, the LA Galaxy from 2001, the San Jose Earthquakes from 2001, the New England Revolution from 2002, the LA Galaxy from 2002. There are just a lot of censor bleeps, non-stop, so it doesn't feel as polished as the main feature. These are presented in 4x3 and 16x9 and are 19 minutes long altogether.
The next feature is called "Players' Greatest Moments." It is exclusively on-screen interviews with the same people from the main feature, including Wynalda, Jones, and Donovan, talking about their favorite moments from the MLS Cup. It is 16x9 but not enhanced for widescreen TV's, and it's seven minutes long.
The last feature is called "Locker Room Celebrations." This is lots of the same footage, only edited to music with no ambient sound. It is 16x9, not enhanced, and two minutes long.
Don't even bother with this if you don't like the MLS or at least some of its players. If you are a fan, the merely good production values of the DVD and the lackluster special features won't bother you because you'll be in Cup heaven. If not, you'll need extreme curiosity or boredom to make this worth your while. So I'm giving it a conditional "Recommended."