LONDON (AP) – It's a question I've heard again and again.
I get asked it at airports and in cabs and bars or on buses. Whenever I tell people what I do for a living, really.
'When will soccer arrive in America?'
I never know quite how to answer. Because I've never believed the exact moment can be pinpointed or predicted; that it has happened or indeed will happen.
Most evolutions that are lasting and worthwhile don't happen in a convenient, easily attributable watershed moment.
This is especially true in sports. Sports that came on suddenly and strongly didn't last very long in the national conscience and never became part of our society's fabric. Think poker, the various gimmicky competitors to the NFL , even NASCAR . Most rise seemingly overnight and fade just as quickly. Others, like NASCAR, have shown staying power but have lost considerable luster from where they were a few years ago.
So if soccer is to truly arrive, it probably shouldn't too quickly.
And besides, what kind of soccer are we talking about? European club soccer? Because that arrived years ago and has many fans stateside. Or are we talking about American soccer? The US men's and women's national teams? And Major League Soccer ?
Typically, I suspect, it concerns the latter two.
The national teams capture the country's imagination around World Cup time and are squarely in the sporting conscience. MLS, on the other hand, still has strides to make.
Saturday's 2012 MLS Cup Final will present as good a chance as any to make a good impression on those sports fans yet unconvinced by its worthiness of their time and attention.
A captivating game and successful broadcast won't be some sort of seminal moment for MLS, mind you, but it could contribute a sturdy building block to a larger structure, one not easily displaced by the consumer's whims.
The game is awash with stories, ones that speak to the very aspects of sport that attract us to it - humanity, transcendence and mortality.
A dynasty will come to an end on Saturday, one way or another. The Los Angeles Galaxy have been to four consecutive Western Conference Finals, reaching MLS Cup three times. They won last year and are the favorites to do so again. They will be a team much changed when the 2013 season kicks off in early March.
An American legend of the game will likely be gone. And a worldwide legend will have moved on, too. The 30-year-old Landon Donovan, the greatest American to ever play the game, at a national team-level anyway, will give in to his existential crisis and decide how much more of his not infinite life he wants to dedicate to a sport that he freely admits has at times grown tedious to him. And David Beckham, 37, will go off and play in some other locale not yet announced.
In truth, neither might ever tie up his soccer laces for a competitive game again. We just don't know. And the mystery adds to the cachet of this game. The Galaxy was the MLS's first super team and it wasn't its first club to put together a dynastic run. Los Angeles was the first to do so with stars known the world over, offering a counterweight to the league's NASL predecessor's New York Cosmos. In fact, the team's very name was a deliberate and sly reference to the old Cosmos.
Knowing this team's end is near will draw some extra viewers, who might not otherwise have given the game any thought.
They will see an affair between two hungry teams and astute tacticians, the Galaxy's Bruce Arena and the Houston Dynamo's Dominic Kinnear, who have been to 10 MLS Cups between them. Because The Dynamo are the Galaxy's opponents, a fact often overlooked in the frenzied hubbub surrounding Beckham and Donovan's last call.
The Dynamo has just as much at stake as the Galaxy. They lost this very matchup in the very same Home Depot Center in Los Angeles a year ago, 1-0. That day, the Dynamo were missing their midfield orchestrator Brad Davis, then, a slight technician who embodies an unassuming, hard-working and gifted team. Their thirst for revenge, the disrespect shown them by all those focusing entirely on the Galaxy, will fuel this game.
The game will be intense. The spotlights will coalesce and shed a searing light on it. Here, now, is a chance for MLS to show its best self and draw some fence-sitters in.
This will not be the game when MLS arrives in America, mind you.
But it might be one that revs up its speed of travel a little further.